Today marks the third time Juneteenth will be observed nationally as a federal holiday.
Also known as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Black Independence Day the date marks the day enslaved people in the United States learned they were free.
In case you’re wondering where the name comes from, it’s a blending of June and nineteenth.
Growing up in Texas, there were always celebrations on Juneteenth. According to Para LaNell Agboga, museum site coordinator at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center in Austin, Texas early celebrations revolved around the church with speeches and picnics.
As Black Texans moved away from Texas, the observances slowly spread.
But I must confess that as our family moved around the United States, I met many who had never heard of Juneteenth.
Or Laura Smalley, a freed slave from a plantation very near where I live now. Or, her story about how her former master went off to fight in the Civil War, and when he came home he never told his slaves what had happened.
“Old master didn’t tell, you know, they was free. I think now they say they worked them, six months after that. Six months. And turn them loose on the 19th of June. That’s why, you know, we celebrate that day.” Smalley’s 1941 interview can still be found on YouTube.
Juneteenth officially began June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his Union troops delivered General Order No. 3, to the residents of Galveston, Texas. The order said:
“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 next year, 1866, the now-freed slaves started celebrating, and the celebration has continued ever since.
One hundred and fifty-five years later in 2021, President Biden signed a bill designating Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Another 96-year-old Texan, Opal Lee is credited with successfully championing that legislation.
The Proclamation states clearly why we should celebrate the day:
“As we observe Juneteenth, we remind ourselves of the sacred proposition rooted in Scripture and enshrined in our Declaration of Independence: that we are all created equal in the image of God and each of us deserves to be treated equally throughout our lives. That is the promise of America that every generation is charged to keep alive. While the opposition may seem fierce and the fire of conflict may be intense, the story of Juneteenth reveals that freedom, justice, and equality will always prevail.”
Today’s celebrations will include parades, concerts, and reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. Like most holidays, Juneteenth is seeing its fair share of commercialism.
Supporters work hard to make sure Juneteenth celebrators don’t forget why. Check here for events offered through JuneteenthFTW.