Juneteenth, America’s second and arguably more important Independence Day, takes place annually on June 19. Some of you have already hopped on the Juneteenth train and had a blast celebrating the Freedom Day this past weekend, but others of you may still be learning about it, and that’s why we’re here at Intersected today!
Juneteenth is growing in popularity, but many communities around the United States still do not celebrate it or know its history.
Every year, Denver has a festival in a historically Black neighborhood called FivePoints. Jazz music, booths selling products by local Black business owners or sharing information from community organizations, live performers, and food abound! It’s incredible. It was virtual this year, due to the pandemic, of course.
Layla, who also writes for Intersected, grew up celebrating the holiday at an event run by a community center in Harrisburg, PA.
Youtube videos are available of a Juneteenth parade from 1990 in Austin, TX, to give an example from another part of the country! Every community celebrates Juneteenth differently, and some don’t do it at all.
Chicago hasn’t had a cohesive celebration to this point. There may be some localized celebrations put on by churches or community organizations — this year they took the form of continued activism for the Black Lives Matter movement — but there isn’t one massive, unified celebration to this point.
But we love Juneteenth! This post intends to educate folks on the holiday, since it is historically significant and seems to finally be growing in popularity. (Woot woot!)
So, what is the holiday? Why do we celebrate it? And where did it get its name?
During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln freed slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863.
Due to a lack of internet or speedy postal trucks, the isolation of Texas, and slave-owners wanting to keep their labor force, folks who were enslaved across the country in Galveston, Texas, didn’t hear the good news until June 19, 1865, two and a half years after President Lincoln decreed it and over two months after the end of the Civil War.
This was a momentous day, the day became known as Juneteenth, named after the date freedom came to that town on June 19. (You can read a more detailed history here. I recommend the website.)
Juneteenth has been celebrated since the late 19th century, according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF). Their mission is to see Juneteenth become a national holiday observance.
A growing handful of corporations gave their employees the day off to celebrate as well, and advocates are working on making the holiday a federal one with the same degree of recognition as the Fourth of July.
In 1997, Ben Haith created an official Juneteenth flag, which was revised three years later. The flag is not the red, black, and green pan-African colors typically associated with the holiday but is actually red, white, and blue.
According to CNN, “The red, white and blue represents the American flag, a reminder that slaves and their descendants were and are Americans. June 19, 1865, represents the day that enslaved black people in Galveston, Texas, became Americans under the law.”
According to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, “The Juneteenth Flag represents a star of Texas bursting with new freedom throughout the land, over a new horizon. The Juneteenth Flag represents a new freedom, a new people, and a new star[t].”
The flag may be raised in honor of African-American veterans and in observance of the holiday, and instructions for how to properly perform the flag-raising ceremony can be found at the NJOF link above.
with content from Sophia Porter
The Fourth of July celebrates the United States’ independence from Great Britain in 1776, but it really meant that the European colonists were now free to live as they pleased, including by owning other people as property for free or cheap labor.
The Fourth of July commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Juneteenth marks the first step towards these words becoming a reality for African-Americans. It also reminds us that the history and the lived experiences of Black Americans are undeniably different from their white counterparts.
Juneteenth celebrates when African-Americans, former slaves, also became free. It is thus a more inclusive Independence Day and one with great significance not only for African-Americans but for all who call this country their home.
Recently, I saw a photo of some African-Americans taken on June 19, 1900, about five generations ago. In it, the sunlight was almost blinding. The women wore long, beautiful dresses and all but one person shaded their eyes with a classy hat as they waited for the camera to do its work.
This photo reminded me of the significance of Juneteenth Independence Day. I first learned about the holiday when I lived in Denver in summer 2014 and delved deeper into the history when I wrote a piece about it for Today’s Christian Woman the next summer. Every year as the holiday approaches, I grow excited.
But the photo gave me pause. The photo was taken just 35 years after the people in it were freed. The folks in it are clearly old enough to have grown up in slavery themselves. They were once treated as property and told they had no rights as human beings. They were once beaten in body and in spirit. Can you see the record of this trauma written in their dignified, Black faces?
Juneteenth is relevant today because this is our history as a nation. We have an ongoing battle for human rights and civil rights here in the United States today. Human Rights Watch has called out this country on numerous occasions in recent years and has a dedicated eye on racial discrimination.
And seeing this photo gave me a touch point for the depths of our history. Imagine being those folks, or being there with them, remembering their daily torture and then their emancipation. We celebrate Juneteenth for them and for what they endured for us.
We celebrate Juneteenth for their descendants and what they’ve accomplished too.
We celebrate Juneteenth because we value African-Americans as citizens and value their history as American history.
We reflect and celebrate not only in Black History Month, not only on Juneteenth, but also as we progress throughout the rest of the year, because how we remember and deal with the history of this nation determines how we will shape it moving forward.