Simply put, Juneteenth is a widely celebrated annual holiday in commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. It is one of the oldest events that has been continuously celebrated by African-Americans since as far back as the mid-1800s.
Asides from just being a significant day in black-American history, Juneteenth has always been set aside as a day to remember and celebrate the Black culture. In fact, recent unfortunate events in America have sparked renewed interest in this day that celebrates black enablement and freedom.
This 155-year-old holiday is celebrated every 19 June, hence the name—which is a combination of June and the nineteenth. On 19 June 1865, Gordon Granger, a Major General of the Union Army, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform the African American slaves that the Civil War had not only ended but that slavery had been dissolved—making them free men again.
Major General Granger led about 2,000 Union troops to Galveston to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, which had been in effect for over two years since January 1, 1863. On that day, over 250,000 African-American slaves in Texas gained their freedom due to this executive decree.
Today, this holiday is regarded as America’s second Independence Day and has been long celebrated by members of the African American community. Over the years, the celebration has evolved with different descendants in the mix since it was first made an annual event, according to Juneteenth.com, which tracks the annual event across the country.
In commemoration of this day, families celebrate by praying together while some who had either been victims of slavery or descendants of slaves travel to Galveston as part of an annual pilgrimage.
In 1872, celebrations of Juneteenth reached new heights when a group of African-American businessmen and politicians bought 10 acres of land in Houston, creating the “Emancipation Park”. Since its purchase, the park has been a significant venue for the city’s yearly Juneteenth celebration.
Today, different families celebrate in different ways but one thing that always significant is the food. In big cities like Washington and Atlanta, large events are being held, in form of festivals and parades in collaboration with local residents, businesses, and law enforcement agencies.
While the coronavirus pandemic halted celebrations in 2020, some cities are already moving forward with their plans this year. The Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta would play host to a music festival and parade to mark this year’s celebration while a 5,000 square-foot mural would be unveiled in Galveston, Texas, at the same spot where Major General Granger proclaimed freedom to enslaved African-Americans. Other similar events are equally scheduled to hold this year in Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Maryland.
Despite being a widely celebrated event, Juneteenth is still not a national holiday. In recent times, past presidents Barrack Obama and Donald Trump have both issued statements in recognition of the day, however, it has been largely symbolic—since Congress is yet to make it an official federal holiday. Nonetheless, last year, about 46 states and the District of Columbia made the move to officially recognize Juneteenth as either a day of observance or a state holiday.
The historical, yet symbolic significance of Juneteenth shows the importance of standing up for what is right and never losing hope, especially during uncertain times.
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