[from the archive – originally posted June 19, 2009]
This is an African American holiday started in Texas, for obvious reasons. Wikipedia has a nice summary of key info:
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. State of Texas in 1865. Celebrated on June 19, the term is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, and is recognized as a state holiday in 31 of the United States.
That is, word of President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation of January 1863 reached Texas only in June 1865:
The holiday originated in Galveston, Texas; for more than a century, the state of Texas was the primary home of Juneteenth celebrations. Since 1980, Juneteenth has been an official state holiday in Texas. It is considered a “partial staffing holiday” meaning that state offices do not close but some employees will be using a floating holiday to take the day off. Twelve other states list it as an official holiday, including Arkansas, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Alaska and California, where Governor Schwarzenegger proclaimed the day “Juneteenth” on June 19, 2005. Connecticut, however, does not consider it a legal holiday or close government offices in observance of the occasion. Its informal observance has spread to some other states, with a few celebrations even taking place in other countries.
As of May 2009, 31 states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or state holiday observance; these include Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
This is also a day to remember the 500,000 African Americans, who as soldiers and support troops, many of them formerly enslaved, volunteered for the Union Army at its low point, and who thus played a (the?) key role in winning the Civil War. This is an ironic day, too, given the very weak apology for slavery voted on this week in the mostly white US Senate. A bit late.
I just wanted to leave a little bit more on this important holiday from a several page handout for anybody intersted–all of which is written below comes directly from this handout authored by Brenda White (2007) on Juneteenth:
Note that this was 2 years, 6 months and 18 days “after” slaves had been officially freed. Standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, [Major General] Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3” [which freed over 250,000 Texas Slaves on June 19, 1865]:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
…The irony of the Proclamation was: You are free but…the Military will not protect you from your slave owners if you try to leave the plantations…
Why Texas Slaves Did Not Know About Their Freedom:
Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom.
Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the slave owners to maintain the labor force on the plantations.
And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.
All or none of them could be true….
The celebration of June 19th grew with much participation from descendants of slaves. The Juneteenth celebration was and is a time for reassuring each other, for praying, and for gathering remaining family members. In the early 1900’s on June 19th many former slaves and descendants made an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date to celebrate freedom, and some in hope to find other family.
Juneteenth is a day of reflection, a day of renewal, a pride filled day. It is a moment in time taken to appreciate the African American experience. It is inclusive of all races, ethnicities and nationalities – as nothing is more comforting than the hand of a friend who could just as easily turn his back.
Juneteenth is a day on which honor and respect is paid for the sufferings of slavery. It is a day on which we acknowledge the evils of slavery and its aftermath. On Juneteenth black people talk about their history and realize because of it, there will forever be a bond between all black people.
On Juneteenth we think about that moment in time when the slaves in Galveston, Texas received word of their freedom. We imagine the depth of their emotions, their jubilant dance and their fear of the unknown.
Juneteenth is a day that we commit to each other the needed support as family, friends and co-workers. It is a day we build coalitions that enhance African American economics.
On Juneteenth we come together young and old to listen, to learn and to refresh the drive to achieve in life. It is a day where we take one step closer together – to better utilize the energy wasted on racism. Juneteenth is a day that we pray for peace and liberty for all.
As we celebrate Juneteenth, we should remember the continuing struggle for equal rights and dignity, and take pride in our special heritage. More than one hundred years later, courageous men and women are still fighting for the civil rights of African Americans….
Sorry for the cynicism that’s about to follow. I’m not sure why I feel compelled to say this, but the details of how the celebration came about are a bit besides the point. (Don’t get me wrong, Seattle. I give your comment “thumbs up.”)
Juneteenth is more of a counter-protest July 4th than anything else. We descendents of slaves recognize that Independence wasn’t for everybody. I think Alice Walker nails it when in THE COLOR PURPLE, Harpo (I think it was Harpo.) explains to his daughter that July 4th didn’t mean anything to black folks but a day off work.
That’s not to say that we can just ignore the history. Just that part of the point is to show-up the injustice of celebrating July 4th as “Independence Day,” when not everybody won “independence.”
Not a problem No1KState, thank you for adding further to the meaning on the holiday. That part wasn’t in the handout….
Good point, No1KState.
We have much holidays like Juneteenth in our Africa nation. Celebrate when that country become independence from European country who owned it long ago.Each country have different customs and heritage. The Europeans did not take this away from ourselves. Heritage is like life. If you do not know where you come from, you cannot move forward to the future time. So much beauty to remember in Africa.
libertyspeaks–very diverse and I agree that heritage is so important. I am glad that many in Africa have been able to preserve their native heritage. Some say when the heritage dies, so do the people. I think there is some very real truth to that–both in a literal and metaphorical sense. I guess for some it has been literal and for others, metaphorical. So much has been lost here in the U.S. from genocide, slavery, and simply forced assimilation of many different peoples/groups. Thank you for sharing on the similar celebrations to Juneteenth in Africa–I was not aware. And even with me growing up in the U.S., it was not until I came to Texas that I even heard of the holiday (which was just a few years ago)…. Thank you