Juneteenth is one of America’s oldest events and is seen every year on June 19 to mark the official end of slavery in the United States.
The day, which gets its name from combining June and 19, has been celebrated by black Americans for some time as a symbol of their long-awaited freedom. However, the story behind the occasion and how Juneteenth gained its importance begins over 150 years ago in Galveston, Texas.
What is the importance and history behind Juneteenth?
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the news about the last Confederate supporters that they would lose the Civil War and that all enslaved people should be freed.
“The People of Texas are informed that by a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” the Union general read out loud to the residents of Galveston, as per the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
“This includes a complete equality of rights and rights of property between previous experts and slaves, and the connection previously existing between them turns into that among employer and recruited worker.”
Recently freed slaves celebrated liberation with “prayer, feasting, music, and dance,” and the main official Juneteenth celebration originated the next year, as per Encyclopedia Britannica.
“The importance of [Juneteenth] is that its sort of embedded in this long history of the struggle to get the freedom and later the efforts to keep up in the face of huge repression that intended to come not long after,” explained Columbia University Professor David Rosner, Ph.D.
“It indicated the end of the Civil War and the start of Reconstruction, a time that should be extremely cheerful and bright but turned into an entirely hopeless time as a part of the redemption of the South to move African Americans to bound servitude.”
While President Abraham Lincoln rejected slavery in his January 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation, contrary Confederate defenses spotted across the South postponed the overall implementation.
Following Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s reluctant surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, Granger had the option to finally move toward Galveston to establish Lincoln’s declaration and free the last remaining victims of servitude in the US.
The reason behind why the news took such a long to travel and why slavery continued in Galveston for more than two and half years after Lincoln finished the practice, is not clear.
Legend has it that a messenger on horseback with news of freedom was killed on his way to Texas. At the same time, other historians condemn Galveston’s solitary nature as a border island on the eastern edge of Texas and its restricted access to communication.
However, Professor Noliwe Rooks, Ph.D., director of American studies and professor of Africana studies at Cornell University, said the delayed end to slavery was fueled by nobody but desire.
“The idea that people in that part of Texas had no clue that the battle was over is ridiculous, honestly,” Rooks told The Post, laughing at the thought.
“There were wire services; there were newspapers … the bigger estate owners were exceptionally wealthy, and rich people have access to facts,” the teacher went on.
“They were trying people. However, they were the ruling class in the United States. They were world-class, many were rich, and they were not uneducated or in reverse. They were severe and brutal, yet at the same not uninformed.”
At that moment, Galveston had its own newspaper, the Galveston Daily News. A dispatch from New Orleans listing the finish of the battle and the arrival of Confederate prisoners was published on June 3, 1865, about two weeks before Granger arrived, as per documents available through Newspapers.com.
In any case, Juneteenth has been “passed down” through African American communities from that point onward, Rooks said. Following the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 and the current civil rights movement that came later, the holiday has seen a revived interest.
When did Juneteenth turn into a holiday, and what number of states and organizations remember it as a holiday?
All 50 states of America and the District of Columbia have now passed regulations remembering Juneteenth as an Official State Holiday or day of glory.
South Dakota was the last American state to recognize the socially huge day when Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill making Juneteenth an official state holiday on February 11, 2022.
Congress also passed a law making Juneteenth a federal holiday in June 2021.
The official Juneteenth celebration came the year after the freedom of enslaved people in Galveston, yet Texas would require over 100 years to consider it a state holiday. In 1980, Texas turned into the first state in the United States in quite a while to declare Juneteenth a state holiday.
However, while most states notice the day, just a few states — beyond Texas — recognize it as a paid state holiday.
Previous New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a regulation-making Juneteenth, an official holiday in the Empire State, in October 2020.
After the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 brought attention to the dilemma of dark Americans, privately owned businesses have also begun to recognize Juneteenth, and some have assigned it as a paid organization holiday.
List of the running organizations that have recognized Juneteenth:
- Best Buy reported employees will be offered a “paid volunteer day” for Juneteenth 2020, and in 2021, it will become a “formal, paid company holiday.”
- Allstate honors Juneteenth as a yearly organizational occasion.
- Google advised their employees in 2020 to begin canceling unnecessary conferences and encouraged staff to utilize the day, all things being equal, “to make space for learning and reflection.”
- C. Penney told staff members Juneteenth would be a yearly holiday for employees.
- Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase declared in June 2021 that they would close all branches and workplaces for Juneteenth, beginning in 2022.
- Lyft honors Juneteenth as a company-wide holiday.
- Mastercard assigned June 19 as a “Day of Solidarity” and encouraged employees to “stop and reflect” regarding all of the work passed on to do “battle discrimination and split.”
- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated Juneteenth was a company holiday in 2020.
- Nike has made Juneteenth a yearly paid holiday.
- Postmates has announced June 19 as an official organization holiday.
- Spotify reported Juneteenth as a paid holiday for all workers in 2020.
- Target workers who are paid hourly will get the time and a half for working on June 19, which is currently an organizational holiday.
- Twitter and Square made Juneteenth a company holiday in 2020 and moving ahead.
- Uber workers are given a paid day off.
- National Grid decided in 2021 to honor Juneteenth as a yearly paid company holiday.
- Media organizations, including the New York Post, VOX, and NPR, have made Juneteenth a paid company holiday.
- Lush, the beauty care products brand, perceives Juneteenth as a holiday for US workers.
How is Juneteenth celebrated?
In the late 1860s and mid-1870s, Juneteenth celebrations made their way through Texas and into connecting states by the Congressional Research Service’s most recent Juneteenth fact sheet.
“Texans celebrated Juneteenth starting in 1866 with community-centric events, like parades, cookouts, prayer gatherings, historical and social readings, and musical shows. Over the long run, communities have developed their own traditions,” the report states.
In 1872, Black Texans led by Baptist minister and previous slave Rev. Jack Yates raised $1,000 to purchase 10 acres of land in Houston that could be devoted to Juneteenth festivals and named the place Emancipation Park, as per the Houston Parks and Recreation Department.
Today, Rooks said Juneteenth keeps on being a day for happy festivals.
“It’s a festival; it’s not serious. Also, it’s loaded with bliss and ceremony. It’s anything but a memorable occasion, so people have barbecues and such things,” Rooks said.
“You will see individuals with crowns on their head, and they are Miss Juneteenth, and they have been settled on and delegated … people have a carnival-like environment, community parties, street vendors, it’s a lot of a celebration.”
Yet, as the nation keeps examining police severity and exhibit against it, Juneteenth is an opportunity to focus on the work that should be done to propel black rights, Rooks said.
“At least, in the United States, there is a real grappling with what it implied and it what it continues to imply that such a great economy in the US during a specific timeframe depended on the enslavement of human beings and not recognizing the mankind and calling us a property that allowed slavery to thrive,” Rooks explained.
“At its middle, at its core, is a call for acknowledging individuals of black people whose lives matter.”