“Early celebrations involved readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, religious ceremonies, singing, games and enjoying foods that enslaved people ate. Today, it doesn’t look that much different. People retell histories, have family reunions, eat foods reminiscent of early Juneteenth celebrations such as barbeque, attend religious services or choir performances and have elaborate displays such as fancy dress and parades. “COSHANDRA DILLARD, Teaching Juneteenth
That’s why Juneteenth is more than an observance of freedom. It’s also a time to share the experiences of those who fought—literally and figuratively—to seek true freedom for future generations. It’s important that we don’t whitewash this history.
A common mistake among those who teach the history of American slavery is to center the U.S. government’s role in granting freedom while also placing the onus to navigate through a racist society solely on the formerly enslaved.
Perhaps many center Lincoln in this history because we tend to think of the Emancipation Proclamation, instead of the 13th Amendment, as ending slavery. Our 2018 Teaching Hard History report found that 59 percent of high school students couldn’t correctly identify the latter as the legal end to slavery in the United States.
But it’s important for students to know that enslaved people didn’t willfully accept enslavement or wait for others to free them. They resisted often and consistently. While rare, violent rebellions did occur. Some people successfully escaped enslavement. And everyday acts of resistance, such as breaking tools or pretending to be ill were other ways enslaved people asserted their humanity.
Juneteenth — a blending of the words June and nineteenth — is the oldest known US celebration of the end of slavery. It commemorates June 19, 1865. That’s the day that Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told slaves of their emancipation from slavery.
A growing number of U.S. companies, ranging from Nike and Citigroup to Twitter and Uber, are giving their employees June 19 as a paid day off to recognize the liberation of slaves after the Civil War.
Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia mark June 19 as a state holiday or observance. Communities across the country celebrate it with food and festivities. But — despite a push by activists over the years — Juneteenth still isn’t a federal holiday. And, throughout its history, it has often been overlooked by non-black Americans.
But on May 23, 1861, only six weeks after the war started at Fort Sumter, S.C., African-Americans Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory and James Townsend escaped enslavement. They made their way to Fort Monroe, the Union’s Chesapeake Bay bastion in Confederate Virginia. They set in motion events that historian Edward L. Ayers, University of Richmond president emeritus, once called “the greatest moment in American history.”
Adam Goodheart told that moment’s story in the New York Times magazine under the headline “How Slavery Really Ended in America.” Henry Louis Gates Jr. declared in the online black magazine The Root that by seeking sanctuary at Fort Monroe, the May 23 escapees “unofficially ignited the movement of slaves emancipating themselves with their feet.”
Trump’s planned rally in Tulsa, site of a race massacre, on Juneteenth is ‘almost blasphemous,’ historian says
Tulsa is the site of one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history: the 1921 race massacre. The announcement that Trump would hold a political rally on Juneteenth in a city where as many as 300 black people were killed by mobs of white people shocked some historians.
“It’s almost blasphemous to the people of Tulsa and insulting to the notion of freedom for our people, which is what Juneteenth symbolizes.”CeLillianne Green, a historian, poet, lawyer and author of the book “A Bridge: The Poetic Primer on African and African American Experiences.”
According to a later Red Cross estimate, some 1,256 houses were burned; 215 others were looted but not torched. Two newspapers, a school, a library, a hospital, churches, hotels, stores and many other black-owned businesses were among the buildings destroyed or damaged by fire.
By the time the National Guard arrived and Governor J. B. A. Robertson had declared martial law shortly before noon, the riot had effectively ended. Though guardsmen helped put out fires, they also imprisoned many black Tulsans, and by June 2 some 6,000 people were under armed guard at the local fairgrounds.
The 1921 Attack on Greenwood was one of the most significant events in Tulsa’s history. Following World War I, Tulsa was recognized nationally for its affluent African American community known as the Greenwood District. This thriving business district and surrounding residential area was referred to as “Black Wall Street.” In June 1921, a series of events nearly destroyed the entire Greenwood area.