With the current climate the world is in, and after Trump’s ridiculous claim, it’s the perfect time to address what Juneteenth is. For the people who have never heard of Juneteenth: don’t feel bad. If there is one thing you should take away from the protests that have grown across the country, it is that being open to learning is the perfect place to start. Juneteenth, also know as Emancipation or Freedom Day, is a holiday that celebrates the official end of slavery. You read that right. For many years, we were taught in school that slavery ended with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, but this is false.
On January 1st, 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared all slaves held in Confederate states to be freed. However, Texas did not follow through with the new law. There are several versions of how this could have gone through the cracks, some include the messenger being murdered on the way to relay the news while others include the state deliberately withholding information. Regardless, slavery carried on in Texas until June 19th, 1865, two and a half years later, when a Union general named Gordon Granger rode into the Galveston, Texas with Union soldiers, realized Black people were still enslaved, and decided to make an announcement. Granger announced that the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 marked the freedom of Black people from slavery.
With this in mind, Granger is no white savior. When he made the announcement, he actually urged the newly freed slaves to stay with their former owners as hired employees. Shocking right?
This suggestion was not taken well by the freed-men and freed-women. What followed after is known as The Scatter. While some were already leaving as Granger was making his announcement, others waited until the end and left in large groups to find family members displaced across the states and relocate to regions in the North. Many of them lost their lives as they were leaving. Slave owners did not take this well and chased, hung and shot at them as they were swimming across the lakes.
There are some reports that it did not end until July of 1867 or 1868 as slave owners suppressed the news and secretly continued on until the harvesting season, or until they were caught.
Happy with their newfound freedom, Black people decided to celebrate. Sadly, segregation began and the laws became their new constitutional chains as they weren’t allowed to gather in public spaces. This did not stop them from celebrating. Instead of gathering in parks, they gathered by lakes and rivers in their finest clothes, ate barbecues and sang spirituals. Red colored desserts, like red velvet cake and strawberry pies, became staples in Juneteenth culture as they are eaten to commemorate the blood spilled during slavery. This led to Black people wanting their own space to celebrate Juneteenth and buying 10 acres of land, for $800, known as Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas.
Celebrations began to die down as people felt it hard to do so when their lives were still in the shackles of oppression during the Jim Crow era. This ended during the Civil Rights Movement when Martin Luther King Jr. purposefully planned the Poor People’s March on June 19th, 1968 and Black people began to celebrate again.
Today, even though Juneteenth is not a federal holiday, is it celebrated for days, weeks and, sometimes, months. It is still celebrated in a similar manner through parades, barbecues and festivals to memorialize the resilience of the Black community. The Juneteenth flag, designed by Lisa Jeanne, or L.J., Graf, pays homage to Texas with it’s single star, but includes a bursting star on the horizon in red and blue, which symbolizes new freedom and new people. Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980. This set the tone as, currently, forty-seven states and the District of Columbia mark June 19 as a state holiday, or observance. Many companies, like Nike, JCPenney and Target, have recently made it a paid company holiday, as well. Activists across the country continue to make strides to push Juneteenth to be recognized as our second Independence Day.
So, no, Trump, you did not not make Juneteenth very famous. But go ‘head, girl, keep giving us nothing!