Juneteenth assumes a greater significance this year in light of protests across America demanding racial equality.
Despite President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, more than 250,000 Black people remained enslaved for 2 more years because plantation owners refused to let them know of the proclamation. It wasn't until June 19, 1865, that the Black community found out that the shackles of slavery had been finally removed.
What is Juneteenth?
After Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963, plantation owners in Texas refused to acknowledge the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. They continued to exploit the Black community, who remained unaware that they had been freed. Juneteenth celebrates the day General Gordon Granger informed the Black community that the Civil War had ended and that they were all free. He arrived with Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas, to read out the proclamation, declaring that "all persons held as slaves within rebellious states are, and henceforward shall be free." Juneteenth marked the end of slavery in America and has since been celebrated as the day of emancipation by the African-American community.
Civil War and Juneteenth
After disagreeing primarily on the emancipation of slaves, 11 Southern states seceded from the United States to form the Confederate States of America. This led to a war between America and the Confederates. The civil war lasted five years before the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, putting an end to the Confederate States of America. At the time of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963, there were not enough Union troops in Texas to enforce the proclamation. So the announcement was made after the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The holiday gets its name from combining the month and the date — June, and Nineteenth. Other names of the holiday include Emancipation Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, and Black Independence Day. It proved to be a key point in the battle for equality by the African American communities, which continues to this day.
Juneteenth Federal Holiday
Juneteenth is a state holiday in 46 states with Texas being the first to declare it one, in 1980. Now, amidst civil unrest and Black Lives Matter protests, there have been calls for Juneteenth to be declared a federal holiday. US Presidents have acknowledged the holiday with Obama paying tribute to the holiday every year during his Presidency. Trump acknowledged the holiday last year. Considering the past and the African-American community's role in building up this country, it's unfortunate that Juneteenth hasn't already been declared a Federal holiday. It's just another example highlighting the determination of the white population's power brokers to tell history as they would like to remember it, which would also explain the resistance against removing confederate statues.
How is Juneteenth celebrated?
The African-American community celebrates the holiday through events such as picnics, rodeos, and church ceremonies. It also serves as a history lesson for new generations. Companies have also started embracing the holiday over the past 20 years with employees of Twitter, Facebook, and Nike enjoying holidays on account of Juneteenth. “I think that's a real take on the way things are transpiring now, a different way of doing things,” he said. “For many, many years there’s been a push for a national holiday, which hasn't taken root yet but this is an interesting way to do the same thing,” said Cliff Robinson, the founder of Juneteenth.com. The NFL announced that it was shutting its office on Juneteenth.
Why is Juneteenth lesser known?
Julian Hayter, a historian and an associate professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, believes the reason Juneteenth is relatively unknown stems also from racial inequality. “The fact that many Americans don’t know what Juneteenth is is exactly why we’re at this space right now. This is seen as an addendum to American history, these are footnotes, yet they’re critical turning points for the country as a whole," said Julian Hayter.
Juneteenth in 2020
This year marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth. The past month has seen protests break out in all fifty states demanding change, citing racial inequality, systemic oppression, and police brutality. The protests have amped up the pressure to remove Confederate statues and that of other slave owners. Trump, who heavily criticized the protests, and labeled the protestors as thugs enraged the African-American community further by announcing that he planned to hold a public rally on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma that recorded one of the worst massacres of African Americans in 1921. More than 300 African Americans were killed after a white mob attacked an African-American business community in the Greenwood District in Tulsa, which was also called the "Black Wall Street." Homes and businesses of people were destroyed as the mob pillaged and killed people on May 31 and June 1, 1921. After facing a backlash, Trump moved his rally to June 20.
Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, a representative from Texas, plans to introduce legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Cutting across party lines, Republican Senator John Cornyn from Texas announced he was going to introduce a bipartisan bill to make June 19 a federal holiday. Congress is yet to approve a national holiday since 1983 when it created one to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Many are hoping 2020 will mark the year Juneteenth becomes a federal holiday.