What is Juneteenth? Here’s what the holiday means
Americans around the country are celebrating Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation in the USA.
The holiday is June 19, while members of the Facebook group “My Life Matters,” founded by Kyla Miller of North Newton, will host a Juneteenth celebration at 6 p.m. June 20 at Athletic Park, Newton. A potluck is planned in the park, participants are encouraged to bring a barbecue grill to prepare food.
This year, the annual celebration of freedom comes as the country grapples with its longstanding systemic racism, as well as the fate of its Confederate monuments, flags and symbols, amid nationwide protests against police brutality and racism after the death of George Floyd.
"Juneteenth is a unifying holiday. It is the completion of the celebration of freedom in America," said Steve Williams, president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.
Juneteenth is often celebrated with joyful community and family gatherings, but many of these events will go virtual this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
What is Juneteenth?
On June 19, 1865, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger informed a reluctant community in Galveston that President Abraham Lincoln had freed enslaved people in rebel states 2½ years earlier. He pressed local residents to comply with the directive.
Although Lincoln had proclaimed the emancipation of enslaved people, effective Jan. 1, 1863, enslavers were responsible for telling the people that they were free, and some enslavers ignored the order until Union troops arrived to enforce it, according to Cliff Robinson, founder of Juneteenth.com. Texas was the last Confederate state to have the proclamation announced.
Though the story of Texas' emancipation is the most widely known, Williams said, other significant events in the history of emancipation took place on and around that date. He said the first known Juneteenth celebrations began in 1866 and spread across the country as African Americans migrated to new cities.
Texas recognized Emancipation Day as a state holiday beginning in 1980. Today, 47 states and Washington, D.C., recognize Juneteenth as either a state holiday or ceremonial holiday.
Activists are pushing for wider recognition, including a designation as a national holiday and an acknowledgment by Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.
"Federal recognition is really what our job is," Williams said.
Where does the name “Juneteenth” come from?
Juneteenth is a combination of "June" and "nineteenth," in honor of the day that Granger announced the abolition of slavery in Texas. The holiday is also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day.
How do people celebrate Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is typically celebrated with educational activities for children, parades, concerts, beauty pageants and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, Williams said.
At cookouts, he said, red food and drink, such as strawberry soda and red velvet cake, are traditional. Red, white and blue are on the Juneteenth flag. The color red symbolizes that "from the middle passage to George Floyd, our blood has been spilled across America," Williams said.
Why is Juneteenth attracting wider attention this year?
Robinson noted that more companies have started to recognize Juneteenth amid the recent protests against racism. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and digital payment platform Square, said both companies will make Juneteenth a company holiday this year at all of their offices across the world.
Hulu is shifting the premiere dates for two original shows, "Love, Victor" and "Taste the Nation," so as not to detract from Juneteenth. The company announced on Twitter it is taking action to "fight against the injustice" and support the Black Lives Matter movement by donating $5 million to nonprofit organizations, including the NAACP.
"The date represents an important turning point for our nation and for human rights, and we believe that now, more than ever, it deserves to have its own day in the spotlight," the tweet read.
President Donald Trump had planned to hold a campaign rally on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Okla., the site of a massacre in 1921 when white men attacked and killed Black residents in a Black business district. Facing backlash over the date, Trump moved the Tulsa rally to Saturday.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he will work with lawmakers to designate Juneteenth an official holiday in the state that was once held the Confederacy's capital. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he would issue an executive order making the day an official city holiday.
Was Juneteenth the end of slavery in the USA?
Though Juneteenth marks the day Texas was informed of the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing enslaved people there as it had in other secessionist states, it did not apply to Union states, such as Maryland, where there were enslavers but did not secede in the Civil War. The Thirteenth Amendment, which was ratified in December 1865, freed enslaved people everywhere in the USA.