What is Juneteenth?

What is Juneteenth?

Sarah Leite, Staff Writer

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, was finally established as a federal holiday last year when President Joe Biden signed a bill to federally recognize it. Juneteenth is the first holiday to be federally recognized since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was established in 1983. Although it was only officially added to the federal calendar last year, it is the oldest nationally celebrated holiday recognizing the end of slavery, beginning in 1865. 

History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth is short for “June Nineteenth”, which marks the day in 1865 when federal troops, led by General Gorden Granger, marched into Galveston, Texas and announced to Texas’s 250,000 slaves that they were now free. Yet, the emancipation did not happen overnight, but celebrations broke out among newly-freed African-Americans and Juneteenth was born. 

The troops had arrived almost two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Issued on January 1st, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation declared that all slaves in the Confederate States “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The presidential order did not immediately free any slaves because the Confederate States were not under the Union control at this time. Union forces had to march into slave-holding states and as they did so, many slaves fled behind the Union lines. The war finally came to a close on the spring of 1865, when Texas’s slave received the news that they were now free. 

Ways That People Celebrate Juneteenth

The history of Juneteenth celebrations goes way back. After the slaves were freed, some would travel back to Galveston, Texas annually in honor of Juneteenth. The tradition of Juneteenth soon spread to other states. Not all White people were happy about these celebrations and many would forbid African-Americans to celebrate in public. Therefore, African-Americans would have to get creative with their ways of celebrating. According to NPR, in an instance in Houston, Texas, Black community leaders saved $1000 to purchase land that is reserved for specifically Juneteenth celebrations. This land is now called Emancipation Park and it is the oldest public park in Houston, Texas. Anyone can go to visit it today. 

Juneteenth is a day where Black Americans celebrate their freedom from slavery and lift one another up. According to the Texas State Historical Association, early Juneteenth celebrations include teaching African-Americans about their voting rights. In addition, Blues festivals were also a popular Juneteenth celebration, so were rodeos and horseback riding. Nowadays, popular forms for celebrating include cookouts, parades, church services, and other popular events.