There are moments in history that are nothing short of monumental, but they aren’t broadly celebrated or acknowledged. Juneteenth is one of those days.
You may have heard the word Juneteenth at some point in your life but have no idea what it’s about. It’s a turning point in our country that isn’t emphasized in history books, so it’s easy to skate past the day with little care. But it’s time we give the respect it deserves.
Here’s the story about Juneteenth, and why we all should know it.
Remember learning about when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery during the Civil War? The executive order went into effect on January 1, 1863, but it wasn’t an immediate victory. It would take two and a half more years before the news that slavery had ended would reach remote Texas.
Up to this point, black people (who were captured and brought to America) were viewed and treated as property and animals, not humans with rights. Their purpose was that of free labor for farming, working as servants and basically doing whatever their owners commanded. Many people saw slavery as immoral and wanted to end it. Confederates didn’t agree that the federal government had the right to do so, which was a major factor in them separating from the Union. Subsequently, the Civil War began.
In 1865, the Confederate states were defeated.
Two months after the Civil War ended, General Gordon Granger announced federal order in Galveston, Texas, the last Confederate state holding onto their human property. Granger declared that all previously enslaved people were free, and he was backed by Union troops to enforce the decree.
This climax of freedom took place on June 19, 1865, therefore, Juneteenth. It is the annual celebration of African Americans being released from the last shred of slavery in this country. Some communities hold gatherings, parades and festivals in commemoration.
The happenings of June 19 were major progress, not just for black Americans, but for our nation! It was a beginning step toward equality and to be treated as people and not property.
Our country explodes in celebration recognizing July 4, 1776 (Independence Day). But black people were still enslaved. Juneteenth is the African American day of freedom. To acknowledge it is to say, this happened, and it is a day we honor, value and will make noise about in celebration together.
Changes are happening as Americans of varying nationalities are screaming in the streets that Black Lives Matter and demanding social justice. Recognizing Juneteenth is a part of that package.
Nike, New York Times, Target, Lyft, JCPenney and many other companies are making Juneteenth an annual paid holiday. They encourage employees to use this time to reflect on the many injustices black people have faced in America, and to connect to the community.
While 47 of the states acknowledge Juneteenth in some capacity (North Dakota, South Dakota and Alaska do not), Texas, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania are the only ones recognizing it as an official paid holiday for state employees.
While Juneteenth is not yet a national holiday, the significance of this time is starting to catch hold. While many white Americans are acknowledging the pattern of struggle that African Americans still face daily, we have long strides to make.
Recognizing the ending of slavery as a nation is a good start! Happy Juneteenth!