What is Juneteenth and why is it so important?

June 19 marks a special celebration for communities around the US. A holiday celebrated as Juneteenth for “June” and “nineteenth”, recognizes the end of the long existent practice of slavery in the US, in a real way. This day is a day for commemorating freedom.

On January 1st, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation intended to free all slaves around the United States. However, in August 1862, Lincoln wrote an open letter in which he stated that his actions were intended to preserve the Union rather than abolish slavery. The promise of abolishing slavery was subject to the Union Army winning the Civil war, which ended up happening in April 1865. Even so, the Union had to enforce emancipation. 

In Texas 1865, there were still approximately 250,000 people held in slavery, and on June 19th, 1865, Union troops led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to announce that the Civil war had ended and that slaves were now free. Even though slavery didn’t end legally in all states until the rectification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865, June 19 which became known as “Juneteenth” was the day when the last slaves were freed, leading to massive celebrations. 

In 1866, the first Juneteenth anniversary celebration took place. Since then, celebrations in many regions across the country continued the tradition of honouring this day. In 1872, a group of former slaves collected 800 dollars and bought 10 acres of land in Houston and they named it Emancipation Park. This is the place where annual Juneteenth celebrations are now held. Texas in 1980 was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday, and now 45 states recognize it as well. However, Juneteenth hasn’t yet become a national holiday.

The original celebration became annual and was made more popular over the years. Juneteenth used to be celebrated by praying and bringing families together. Some celebrations had men and women who were enslaved, and their descendants make an annual journey back to Galveston. Now, some celebrations take place in families’ backyards, in other cities, such as Galveston, there are large events like parades, festivals, barbecues, musical performances, and beauty contests, all beginning the first week of June.

Juneteenth represents the good and the bad of what makes the USA the country it is today. This day is a symbol of liberation, but a liberation that was delayed due to consistent opposition deeply rooted in white supremacy. The last slaves were declared free months after they had actually been liberated, and even now the idea of delayed freedom resonates. Since the first celebration in 1866, black people have endured a constant battle for equality and a different form of freedom.

This year, following the killing of George Floyd, thousands of people around the United States began to protest. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, and many other names sparked a desire for change across the country and eventually revived the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM). In Minneapolis, officials banned the use of chokeholds and strangleholds by police, democrats in Congress unveiled a sweeping bill targeting misconduct to combat excessive use of force and racial discrimination by the policy, even companies voiced support for the BLM movement and fired employees who made racist remarks. Many African-Americans and black Americans feel as if this was the first time in many years that they have been heard. Juneteenth feels different. Now it is an opportunity for change.




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