Juneteenth – An American Holiday
You may have recently heard about Juneteenth—a unique American holiday that has been much talked about of late. It’s a term popping up more often in pop culture, the national and local news, and even gaining recognition as an official holiday in many cities across the country. In fact, as of the writing of this article it has just been passed as a federal holiday by the United States Congress and is awaiting signature by the president. But what exactly does this day—a day which the African-American community has recognized and celebrated for well over a century—really stand for?
“Juneteenth” which is a combination of the words “June” and “19th” is also referred to as “Freedom Day”, “Jubilee Day” or “Emancipation Day”. It commemorates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers made their way to Galveston, Texas and notified the last American slaves that their freedom had been secured. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued by President Lincoln over two years earlier, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant and the Union Army two months prior, but at that time word was slow to travel across the nation and many had not been aware of their own emancipation. The true official and legal end to slavery actually occurred with the passing of the 13th Amendment by congress on January 31, 1865—yet Juneteenth still serves as the de facto or unofficial recognition to the closing of this tragic and painful chapter in American history.
For many, it is a solemn day and a time for personal reflection and rejoicing. Across the nation throughout Black communities, one could observe all types of celebrations that serve as an enduring reminder of past atrocities combined with local flair and optimism for the future. From local parades and marches, demonstrations, and even cook-outs in regional parks with traditional soul-food meals.
Until more recently, however, the day never reach the status of a national holiday. Texas, was the first to designate the day as a holiday and slowly since that time 45 states have joined suit. More recently, since the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer many major U.S. corporations have joined in making the day a company-wide paid holiday for their employees. For many activists today of all races and backgrounds, the push to make Juneteenth an official national holiday serves to educate future generations on the institution of slavery that persisted on this country’s soil for nearly 250 years (and a legacy that lived on through sharecropping and racial segregation). It is a stain left on our collective consciousness and should never be relegated to the footnotes of history or forgotten.
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