Juneteenth is not a new celebration. For decades, the national holiday has been recognized in the African American community. For many, June 19, is a day of celebration, education and commemoration. As of this year, states like Virginia has made the day an official holiday and New York’s Governor Cuomo has signed an executive order recognizing the holiday for state employees and will propose to make it a permanent state holiday. Many companies have also taken the vow to make it an official paid holiday for their employees.
The day marks a significant day in African American history, that has gone unknown by many parts of the world. This year, with the growing calls to bring awareness to racism and social injustices following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many are learning about the faithful day in June that changed the course of history for millions of enslaved Americans in Texas.
What is Juneteenth?
Many have confused the date as the day all slaves were freed – it’s not. June 19, 1865 marks the day that the Union soldiers, who were led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas with the news that the war had ended and that slaves were free in the state. This was two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. There are several explanations about how the state of Texas missed the memo. The most popular story is the one about a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas to deliver the news of freedom. Another story says that the new was deliberately withheld by enslavers to maintain labor on the plantations and another is that the federal troops waited to reap the benefits of one final cotton harvest.
Early Juneteenth culture is rooted in celebrations. It was custom to celebrate with activities that included fishing, rodeos, baseball and barbecues. Still, it was important that those who celebrated focused on education and self-improvement and many events host guest speakers. Prayer was also an important factor.
93-year-old Opal Lee is a relentless champion for making Juneteenth a national holiday. Sign her petition here: https://t.co/q3ZyAzJNKj— Change.org (@Change) June 15, 2020
How to Celebrate
This year with the coronavirus, traditional Juneteenth celebrations are limited. Safety guidelines have changed the face, but it does not change the history. In honor of the historic date, it is important to encourage making it a federal holiday. Opal Lee, 93, has created a Change.org petition calling for lawmakers to observe the date. In the spirit of learning, there are pieces of pop culture that can be consumed. ABC’s Black-ish and FX’s Atlanta are two series that have episodes dedicated to the holiday. Most importantly, supporting Black businesses. There are hundreds of thousands of food, art, clothing and other businesses owned by Black people where you can show your support online or in person. During the times of a great racial divide in the country and the deaths of unarmed black men and women, it is important to learn about the rich history and culture within the African-American community.