Juneteenth’s Significance Today
Once again people are marching in the streets demanding swift justice and an end to systemic racism. There is also the demand for the un-whitewashing of history in an effort to increase knowledge of the events of the past that still weigh heavily on all institutions in the United States today. No system in this country has gone untouched by slavery and the many mechanisms put in place following it to ensure that Black people remain locked out of success. There is also not one that has done much to aid Black people in making up for the hundreds of years their ancestors provided free labor to build a country that continues to treat them as non-citizens.
This week, on Friday, June 19, some will celebrate Juneteenth. Most, due to the lack of accuracy in presenting American history in schools – will not. So what is Juneteenth?
The holiday of Juneteenth goes by other names including Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Black Fourth of July. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union general Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free. That’s right, while the Emancipation Proclamation became official January 1, 1863, Black people in Texas were not notified of their freedom until two years later.
Since then, Black people in Texas – and beyond – have celebrated Juneteenth with history lessons and activities focused on self-improvement and awareness to go along with recreational activities such as rodeos, barbeques and summer sports such as baseball. Prayer services are also part of many celebrations.
The color red is also dominant. Red drinks – especially red soda or punch – is a popular part of celebrations. Red drinks are a nod to hibiscus and kola nuts, which made their way to the Americas as part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. You can learn more about food traditions in this New York Times article, “A Juneteenth of Joy and Resistance.”
Juneteenth is significant because in a lot of ways it demonstrates the rich heritage and history of Black Americans that has been left out of history books. It’s a day that celebrates freedom but also shows the bungled response and unwillingness of southern states to carry out the Emancipation Proclamation and following legislation.
This year the holiday takes place in the midst of a global pandemic, a divided nation and protesting against police brutality. We encourage you to celebrate by learning more about the holiday and finding ways that you can participate in and support local efforts.