WHAT IS JUNETEENTH?

Today, June 19th, 2020, marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth. You might ask, “What is Juneteenth?” To be honest, I had never heard of the holiday until I questioned why it was in my calendar. And that right there is an act of privilege that I have, to be able to be unaware about Juneteenth which celebrates the liberation and end of slavery in the United States when I am a United States citizen. But, I am educating myself and it is a process that will never be finished

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It dates back to June 19th, 1865 when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free, two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863). General Granger read to the people of Texas General Order Number 3:

“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

In response to this news, people were shocked but also jubilant. Though many stayed to see how the new employer to employee relationship unfolded, many set off North or to neighboring states to see family. Then, the Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying, and for gathering remaining family members. Now, many former slaves and descendants make an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date. There are a range of activities that you can do today to celebrate Juneteenth. However, I would like to caution all of you to not do anything rash because of the pandemic still around. So, here are some ways to celebrate Black Joy on Juneteenth:

  1. Buy artwork from a Black artist. This could come in the form of tapestries, clothing, or music.
  2. Read and discuss articles from The Root’s Black Excellence column
  3. Order takeout from a Black owned restaurant
  4. Venmo individual Black people doing good work in their community
  5. Listen to playlists and podcasts featured in Spotify’s ‘Black History is Now’ campaign
  6. Read a book by a Black author that’s main subject area is not racism.
  7. Watch a show or movie that has Black Joy. Some shows/movies on Netflix are #BlackAF, About The Washingtons, All American, Cheer, Dear White People, and many more.

Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations have declined which was a consequence of economic and cultural forces. Textbooks and classroom education didn’t cover the topic of slavery in detail and proclaimed that the Emancipation Proclamation was the only thing that signaled the ending of slavery. However, Juneteenth saw a resurgence of celebrations during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, we must continue in stride and celebrate Juneteenth and with it, African American freedom and achievement.

Originally published June 19

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