The History of Juneteenth

 
  Texas Juneteenth Day Celebration, 1900 (Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)   Photo by PBS. 

Texas Juneteenth Day Celebration, 1900 (Austin History Center, Austin Public Library) Photo by PBS. 

Let’s travel back in time for a second. Picture this:

It’s June 19th, 1865. The Civil War officially ended a little over a month ago, but that hasn’t stopped some of the civil unrest between the North and South. Slavery was signed off by Abraham Lincoln just two years prior via the Emancipation Proclamation, but with communications systems not being as great as future societies, news hasn’t spread all that far. And where it has, slave owners have withheld the information from their slaves to keep the old system going… that is until Major General Gordon Granger and the Union Army decided to come on down to Galveston, Texas, and deliver and enforce the earth shattering proclamation: that slaves were free and the war was over. Now, most Americans recognize June 19th, or Juneteenth, as a national holiday and proudly celebrate the independence of African Americans.

The word may seem strange, but Juneteenth IS a real word, being a combination of the month June and the date nineteenth. It was first officially recognized in 1979 by Texas, and 44 states and the District of Columbia soon followed, leading to a nationwide recognition of the holiday (minus Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and New Hampshire).

There are actually numerous dates that could have been chosen to be African American Independence Day, but the selection of June 19 ultimately came down to a massive historical movement during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1970s. Following the Civil War, Juneteenth was celebrated with great joy by African American communities and local cities; during the reign of the Jim Crow laws and the Great Depression, however, Juneteenth faced a significant decline. It wouldn’t be until the Poor People’s Campaign of June 1968 that Juneteenth would resurge into the forefront of American historical holidays.

After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy led a protest in Washington, D.C. Both on the streets and inside the government, turmoil was amuck; this caused some to question whether the protest was really spreading more negativity than the positivity it hoped to inspire. The leaders of the movement decided that the protest must end on a high note, and they chose June 19th as a day of independence and celebration.

The modern day Juneteenth celebration often consists of barbeques, soul food, parades, speaking engagements, festivals, and more. For more information on Juneteenth, visit the official website at  http://www.juneteenth.com/. Happy Juneteenth, everyone!

  Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger   Photo by Texas State Historical Association.

Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger Photo by Texas State Historical Association.

  Poor People's Campaign, 1968   Photo by The Nation.

Poor People's Campaign, 1968 Photo by The Nation.

  Modern Day Juneteenth Celebration: members of the Tsoloi Ensemble perform a traditional African dance at the Juneteenth celebration in Washington   Photo by Times Union.

Modern Day Juneteenth Celebration: members of the Tsoloi Ensemble perform a traditional African dance at the Juneteenth celebration in Washington Photo by Times Union.