Juneteenth marks a date of major significance in American history.
It is not the day that all enslaved people were freed, or the day that slavery ended. But it does represent the ways in which freedoms for Black people have been delayed.
So, what is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth started in Texas in 1865 when 250,000 enslaved people were liberated.
But wait, you’re saying, I thought enslaved people were freed in 1863 by the Emancipation Proclamation?
This is one of those things our textbooks skipped over; the Emancipation Proclamation did not instantly free all slaves.
It only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas under Union control.
Looking at Texas specifically, the state was not closely monitored and did not experience a significant presence of Union troops. So, people used this as a loophole. Many slave owners went to Texas with their slaves and slavery continued there.
It wasn’t until June 1865 when General Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas that the message was passed along and freedom was signaled for the remaining slaves in the state.
4th of July v. Juneteenth
So, now you’re saying that the real day of freedom is July 4th because that’s the way it’s always been. And I get it.
I, too, grew up with an Old Navy American flag shirt waving sparklers around at dusk and watching the fireworks with family and friends. It was always a blast. But the weight of Juneteenth holds so much more significance.
July 4th is the day when 2.5 million Americans were granted political freedom by the Declaration of Independence.
Juneteenth celebrates when 3.9 million enslaved Americans were granted human freedom by the Emancipation Proclamation**.
See the difference?
If you don’t, I urge you to really think about why human rights outweigh political rights.
**June 19th is the day of celebration because this is the day word reached that last group of enslaved Americans.
If it’s so important, why isn’t Juneteenth a national holiday?
As of 2020, 47 states have passed legislation recognizing Juneteenth as either a state holiday or a day of observance.
Efforts to make Juneteenth an official federal holiday have fallen short in Congress, just like a lot of things do.
But today, senators are pushing for legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
This legislation would also call for the formation of a commission to encourage appropriate ceremonies and activities across the country.
Juneteenth is just that—a celebration. A celebration of freedom. A celebration of Black lives. A celebration Black people have been taking part of for a long time.
Remember that in the midst of chaos and hatred and protests, Black love and Black joy still exists and still matters.
Professor Charles McKinney wrote to his Black students:
So, how can you celebrate as a non-black person?
- Buy artwork from a Black artist.
- Order takeout from a Black owned restaurant.
- Read a book by a Black author.
- Watch a show or movie that features Black joy. Source: @celisiastanton
- Listen to playlists and podcasts featured in Spotify’s ‘Black History is Now’ campaign.
- Learn more about Juneteenth and Black history.