This week the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. June 19th will now be a federal holiday for Juneteenth Independence Day. This is a huge recognition for the commemoration of June 19, 1865!
If you are hearing about Juneteenth for the first time or heard about it recently, you are probably not alone. I, myself, discovered Juneteenth while I was going through military training in Texas. I was baffled by the fact that I had never heard or learned about Juneteenth before then. After all, it is part of American history. My ignorance of Juneteenth was profoundly astounding to me. Juneteenth is part of this country’s history and a significant one at that—why had I never heard of it until that hot day in Texas?
Three Things to Know About Juneteenth
Why is Juneteenth called Juneteenth?
Well, it is an abbreviation for June 19th. I think Juneteenth rolls a little better off the tongue. Okay, now that we understand how the name came to be, let us discuss why it is celebrated.
Why is Juneteenth Celebrated?
When the federal mandate, the Emancipation Proclamation, was passed to free those enslaved in the states seeking secession; it was ignored by the southern Confederates that had fled with their slaves to Galveston Bay, TX. The slave owners intentionally kept the enslaved in bondage for much longer so they could continue working in their cotton fields and on their plantations. It was not until, June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger, and 2,000 Union soldiers, arrived in Texas to inform those that were enslaved of their freedom and the ending of the Civil War.
Major General Granger read aloud General Order No. 3 which stated:
“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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedman are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
The order was published in newspapers and read numerous times throughout the city by Union soldiers.
Remember, President Abraham Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation effective on January 1, 1863. Those enslaved in Texas waited over two-and-a-half years after the Proclamation was passed to learn of their freedom. However, it was not until six months later, in December of 1865, that all the enslaved were freed across the country via the 13th Amendment.
On the anniversary of that day (June 19, 1865), the newly freed people in Texas began celebrating June 19th as Liberation Day/ Emancipation Day/ Jubilee Day. Eventually, the celebration of Juneteenth spread across the country as more African Americans migrated from Texas to other states. Over time, Juneteenth became a celebratory representation of strength and resistance of African Americans experiencing racial inequalities and injustices during the time of segregation and the fight for equality.
Most African Americans commemorate Juneteenth by telling the untold stories of African Americans in history. Those stories may be accompanied by an uplifting sermon or scripture, and a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Why is Juneteenth Celebrated with Red Foods and Drinks?
Games are played while feasting on delicious BBQ ribs, assorted red deli meats, decadent red velvet cakes, watermelons, red berries, and numerous red drinks—all red.
It symbolizes the resilience of the enslaved ancestors and the blood that was shed by so many of them.
Juneteenth has now become the embodiment of all the victories and afflictions experienced in the fight for Equality and Justice for all BIPOC in America. Juneteenth reminds us of how far African Americans and this country have progressed since that time. It serves as a symbol for hope and change for all groups of people who are subjected to the continuation of racism, discrimination, inequalities, and injustices.
It is America’s second Independence Day.