The Significance of Juneteenth: Then & Now
By Melissa Lipari
June 19th is as important a day now as it was in 1865. June 19th or Juneteenth as it is celebrated, is the day in which the abolition of slavery in Texas - and widely in the confederate south - was proclaimed. According to Black Then, “The term is a portmanteau of ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth’ and commemorates the date when the Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island, Texas with 2,000 troops to establish a federal presence in Texas and officially free slaves in the once republic.”
While we currently mourn the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the thousands of other black lives that we have lost to police brutality and other injustices, this day has become more than just a marking on a calendar. It is a holiday that celebrates the moment in history when every state - proclaimed frontier land or not - followed the Emancipation Proclamation and began the abolition of slavery.
Contrary to popular belief, June 19th was not the actual day in which all slaves were freed. June 19th was the day that slaves were informed that they were going to be freed; two very different reasons for celebration. Despite it not being the day of actual freedom, it sparked a hope in all black lives in the south that had not yet been felt. A quote from a former slave that lived through Juneteenth that was included in an essay by Haye Turner detailed, “…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.”
This was a turning point for black people in the confederate south, particularly in Texas, as Texans were considered separate from the Civil War. When the Civil War ended, many Texans did not abide by the laws that were put in place to protect black people due to their frontier status. Juneteenth marked the ending of the “loophole” that states like Texas were able to follow, simply because they were a “frontier” state before and during the time of the Civil War.
Juneteenth is celebrated in vast ways, but it is typically a day where the black community comes together to celebrate what has come to fruition from this historic day. Juneteeth.com writes, “It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long overdue.” This day of reflection and rejoicing is an important moment in the year that should be federally observed.
As we continue to educate ourselves and advocate towards #BlackLivesMatter and the highly important end of systematic racism, mass incarceration, and disenfranchisement towards people of color, we can understand why a day such as this is so important to African American culture.
While it is clear that the treatment of black people is nowhere near where it should be, this day in history was a stepping stone for the freedom and equality that is still being called for today. Just as we have Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day as nationwide holidays, Juneteenth should be recognized as such. It is a day meant for black people to look back on an important historical event that has shaped change in a country where change is often at the forefront of many people’s mind, but is hard to come by due to systemic inequalities.
Every year, businesses are closed on the fourth of July, a day that is made to celebrate the thirteen colonies claiming their independence from Britain - leading to the formation of the United States. We should recognize the independence that black people were able to gain from their slave owners in the same way that we recognize the independence we gained in 1776 from Great Britain. Although some of us may never personally understand the mistreatment, the hurt, and the difficulties that stem from racism and microaggressions, that does not mean that we should ignore these inequalities because they don’t directly affect us - holiday or not.
This holiday becoming federal and national could also serve as a day of reflection for those who have not been directly affected, to teach themselves the reality of their privilege. Every person has the right to celebrate their heritage or an important moment in their history. Juneteenth is no different.
If you would like to support the federal and national inclusion of Junetenth, here is a petition created by Change.org, to make this day a holiday that is observed and recognized by all.