Written by: Gabriella Alleyne
I would like to begin with an excerpt from a famous speech given by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852.
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
And this brings us to this most celebrated day by African Americans, Juneteenth!
Juneteenth is the holiday celebrated each year that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Since the late 1800s it has been celebrated by African Americans. This day is also called Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day.
Why do we celebrate Juneteenth?
On June 19, 1865 two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, VA General Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas to tell the enslaved African Americans that the Civil War had ended and they were now free.
“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 freedmen 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.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865
Note that General Gordon Granger’s announcement was a full two and a half years AFTER the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln.
Was there a significant effect after this announcement?
There was not an immediate change after this announcement. Hayes Turner, a former enslaved person, said she continued working for her mistress for another six years and was treated the same way she was before General Granger’s announcement. And Susan Merritt, another former slave, said they still killed and hung people after they were freed if they caught them swimming across the Sabine River.
“The 19th of June wasn’t the exact day the Negro was freed. But that’s the day they told them that they was free … And my daddy told me that they whooped and hollered and bored holes in trees with augers and stopped it up with [gun] powder and light and that would be their blast for the celebration.” – Hayes Turner
How is it celebrated?
Juneteenth is celebrated by praying and bringing families together. Men and women who were previously enslaved and their descendents made an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston. In 1972, some African American ministers and businessmen in Houston purchased 10 acres of land and created Emancipation Park with the intent of holding the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration there. Today, people celebrate with barbecues, parades, and festivals. People also take this day to educate themselves and celebrate black history.
How many states recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday?
Texas was the first state to designate Juneteenth as a holiday. Currently 47 states and the District of Columbia have officially recognized this day. Juneteenth is not yet a national holiday. There are many online petitions calling for it to become one. In 2018, the US senate passed a resolution designating June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day but it has not yet reached the House of Representatives.
This is a holiday that I never learned about in school, nor did I learn about the history surrounding it either. I have gone to a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) since I was in Kindergarten. I barely learned any black history. When I asked my parents, they had the same experience with gaps in Black History education. I have had to go and research about black history on my own time or learn about it from my parents. This should not be the case! Schools should re-evaluate their History and English curriculum to incorporate different histories and not just a eurocentric version of history. Black history does not begin with slavery nor does it end with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Black history is rich, which I am only just now learning about the vast contributions black people have made not only in this country. We should also learn about Native American, Asian American, Hispanic and Latin X history, and it should all be included in American History. As long as it is separated to a month out of the year we will always be seen as the other. We should not have to teach ourselves what we should be learning in schools.
So for my Juneteenth I am going to spend it educating myself on black history, my history through books, videos, and articles. I am going to help my siblings understand that we have an amazing and rich history that goes beyond just slavery and the can and should be proud to be Black!
If you would like to learn more here are some sources
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