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The Significance of Juneteenth

Juneteenth, or June 19th, celebrates the end of enslavement in the United States. While many believe the abolishment of slavery occurred when President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, enslavement across the United States was not abolished until two and a half years later on June 19, 1865.

(Image from University of North Carolina School of Art:

Juneteenth is a commemoration of the day in 1865 when Union soldiers finally reached Galveston, TX and read General Orders, Number 3 which in part 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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

This holiday holds great significance for the Black population in the United States as a way of celebrating freedom from enslavement, passing on traditional foods and oral histories, as well as strengthening cultural community. Popular foods shared at Juneteenth celebrations are barbecue, red velvet cake, and strawberry soda. There are often readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as sermons and music.

Juneteenth early on became a day when family members who were violently separated in the diaspora created by enslavement searched for one another. Advertisements were placed in newspapers, in the hopes of being united with loved ones. The scope of the tragedy created by enslavement is important to remember as we celebrate this day, recognizing the repercussions that have rippled across generations and throughout institutions that still exist.

(Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900, Texas

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Frederick Douglas famously asked the question, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” since our nation’s founding didn’t offer freedom for all at its inception. Juneteenth is a way for all of us to celebrate the post-war rebirth of our nation where its highest ideals of liberty, equality, and brotherhood could be fully realized. By recognizing our most difficult histories, celebrating how far we’ve come, and joining arms in a pledge to create further equity, we honor the dreams of Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, and all those who sacrificed so much for us to have this moment.

We invite you to learn more about Juneteenth with your families and then join us in celebrating the richness and beauty of Black culture. Black history is American history, and Juneteenth should be a day above all days when we “let freedom ring.” Some of our favorite resources that give insight into the history of Juneteenth are podcasts.

Jasmine Bradshaw of First Name Basis has an excellent overview on her season 3, episode 26 podcast found here. Be sure to check out her show notes, where she links to books, recipes, activities, articles, and more.

Recently Jermaine Fowler of The Humanity Archive did a deep dive podcast into Juneteenth as well. You can listen here, as well as see pictures and access his show notes.

The Juneteenth website is an amazing way to connect with history, participate in the campaign to make Juneteenth a national holiday, and there is even a store where you can find flags, yard signs, t-shirts, and more to add to your Juneteenth festivities. Check out the website here.

Many cities hold their own Juneteenth celebrations, so be sure to keep your eye out for opportunities to celebrate in your community.

Happy Juneteenth everyone! We hope you will find a way to commemorate this significant day.

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