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What is Juneteenth?

By Calvin L Miller
Web Content Contributor

I was not aware of Juneteenth until I moved back to Texas in June of 2011 from Illinois. After getting a job as a middle school teacher, I was asked to teach Texas History, and the topic of Juneteenth came up. After some research, it’s pretty wild that I wasn’t made aware of this celebration day until moving to Texas, but it does seem to be a more dominant theme in the South rather than the North. Why?

Juneteenth, which goes by other names such as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Liberation Day, is a recognition of the freeing of slaves in the United States. The holiday began in Galveston, Texas, which could explain why it’s more of a theme in the South. 

After Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, slavery was outlawed in Texas and all other states. However, enforcement was very slow. Some saying that slavery continued a year or so after the order due to the slow-moving news. 

For reference, the Emancipation Proclamation was given in 1862, but the announcement by Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger that the slaves were freed wasn’t until June 19, 1865, in Galveston.

Since the holiday originated in Texas, celebrations were limited to the area, but the first celebration was held one year after the announcement called: Jubilee Day. Due to the remaining segregation in the South following the banning of slavery, celebrations had to be limited to paid venues rather than public parks or areas. The city of Austin celebrated Juneteenth for its first time in 1867 and then began to spread to other cities. 

But the fight wasn’t over yet.

At the turn of the 20th century, the late 1800’s to early 1900s, the economy started to deteriorate, and segregation began to really make its presence known. This led to a decline of celebrations which slowed the Juneteenth movement. The Great Depression and World War II only added to this issue. 

The holiday did make a comeback after the war ended. Due to the Great Migration, which occurred from the 1940s to the 1970s, more than five million African Americans left Texas to other states, bringing the holiday with them.

A resurgence of the holiday occurred during the Civil Rights Movement when race relations were at their worst and segregation began falling apart. In the late 1970s, the Texas Legislature officially declared Juneteenth a holiday of significance, making Texas the first state to do so. People are allowed to take the day off work if they choose to do so, but government entities do not close entirely, unlike the Fourth of July or other Federally recognized holidays.

As we enter a new time of race relations – which seem to be at the forefront of the news every day – calls for Juneteenth to become a Federally recognized holiday are increasing. If this were to occur, then June 19 would be just like the Fourth of July, a day to celebrate freedom and independence.

 In the end, why not make it a national holiday? An entire group of people was liberated. At least recognizing an individual’s freedom would be a way to pay respect.

Featured Image by Thomas Cizauskas via Creative Commons.

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