What is Juneteenth?

“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
Illustrator and war correspondent Thomas Nast depicted the emancipation of Southern enslaved people at the end of the American Civil War.

What Is Juneteenth?

“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. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

What is Juneteenth—and what does it celebrate?

With Granger’s announcement, June 19—which would eventually come to be known as Juneteenth—became a day to celebrate the end of slavery in Texas. As newly freed Texans began moving to neighboring states, Juneteenth celebrations spread across the South and beyond.

In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize June 19 as a state holiday, which it did with legislation. Today, Juneteenth is recognized by nearly every state, and there is an effort underway for federal recognition.

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. 

How Juneteenth turned Texas’ shameful slave legacy into an international celebration of freedom

Powerful white men who owned human beings (of higher or equal value to prized livestock) had successfully derailed any verbal confirmation of Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation to end slavery.

All but four US states celebrate Juneteenth as a holiday

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.

Starting the trend for making Juneteenth a company holiday

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.

The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth

Juneteenth marks our country’s second independence day. Although it has long celebrated in the African American community, this monumental event remains largely unknown to most Americans.

Juneteenth Independence Day. Freedom or Emancipation day. Annual american holiday, celebrated in June 19. African-American history and heritage. Poster, greeting card, banner and background. Vector

What to know about Juneteenth and why people are talking about it now

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.

Obsolete Juneteenth disregards black role in emancipation

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.”

Tulsa Race Massacre

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.

1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

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.

The Tulsa Race Massacre: A Mindless Rage of Collectivist Groupthink

“In a single horrifying night in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, nearly 40 square blocks were burned to the ground, nearly 300 people died, and at least 9,000 African Americans were left homeless. The dead, however, will not be forgotten.”


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