On a burnt orange background, a black hand is holding a white balancing object underneath a festival related flag

The Meaning of Juneteenth

By Jernice Kelley
Web Content Contributor

For many black Americans, Juneteenth has become a second Independence Day. The celebration of Juneteenth is a staple in many black communities. However, knowledge of this important celebration does not always reach every member, especially young black children.

Much like myself, many children grow up and discover this celebration and its meaning on their own. The history and importance of this holiday was not taught in school until much later, if at all.

What is Juneteenth?

Brown fist are raised in solidarity against a black backdrop
Hands of the Liberated. Image by Jernice Kelley.

Many people believe that slavery ended in January of 1863 when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and while that may be true on paper, many slaves were not free for another two years.

It was not until 1865 that the last group of slaves were freed in Galveston, Texas after finally receiving the announcement (which was originally made on June 19, 1865) from General Granger of General Order Number 3 which stated:

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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

So, to put it simply, Juneteenth is a commemoration for the true ending of slavery in the United States, but that is not all Juneteenth is.

Despite unclear reasons as to why the news of freedom did not make it to Texas sooner, it was still met with celebration, and for some, the immense desire to reach out to lost family members. Juneteenth became an officially recognized and celebrated holiday in the state of Texas in 1980.

Celebrating Juneteenth

Brown men and women holding blank protest signs against a grey backdrop. There are two other brown women who are looking at the signs and people protesting.
Community protest. Image by Jernice Kelley.

The celebration of Juneteenth comes with a wide range of activities such as rodeos, baseball and prayer services. Many foods have become popular through the celebration of Juneteenth as well, like barbecuing or making special dishes.

Even so, the most important focus of the holiday is to educate and push for self-growth. These aspects of commemorating the holiday can still be seen today.

The holiday is celebrated nationally despite still not being an official holiday in all places. Juneteenth celebrates black achievement, freedom and self-growth.

Activist Jireh Dixon is someone from the current generation who celebrates the holiday. Although she didn’t really learn about the holiday until a couple of years ago, Dixon says that her family currently celebrates the day by gathering together and remembering those who have played a part in pushing the black community further. The Family also shares a traditional meal in acknowledgment to their direct lineage.

Dixon also states, “Juneteenth made me feel more empowered and more responsible. It is up to me to further educate myself on this history and inform others.”

With the current social climate and national police brutality protests, this holiday holds more significance than ever. Black Americans are still fighting for that true sense of freedom in every direction. It is the unfair treatment under the law and the mass incarceration of black and brown bodies that are being fought against. It is the fight for the right to live peacefully and equally without fear.

Recently, several companies such as Nike, the NFL, Spotify and Google, have all announced that they will be recognizing Juneteenth either by observing moments of silence or by making it a paid holiday for their employees so that they may stand in solidarity with the black community.

 Educating the Youth

Against a yellow background, a young girl sits underneath a bookshelf reading a book while another stack of books lay beside her
Educate yourself on the history of Juneteenth. Image by Jernice Kelley.

There are many ways to educate yourself, children, and others on the importance of Juneteenth. It is important to educate our youth because they will be our future leaders and innovators.

If you have young children and you want them to know about this day, then check out some of these books:

  • Juneteenth for Mazie, by Floyd Cooper
  • Juneteenth Jamboree, by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom, by Angela Johnson
  • Freedom’s Gifts: A Juneteenth Story, by Valerie Wesley

Featured image by Jernice Kelley.

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