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Feature

Juneteenth

Leah Ally

Volume 4 Issue 5

June 26, 2024

Juneteenth

Image Provided by Elaine Ching

Also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Black Independence Day, and Jubilee Day, Juneteenth has only become recognized as a national holiday within the past three years.  However, it has a rich, complex history that has been around since 1866. But why was Juneteenth only made a national holiday recently? And why is it celebrated? Celebrated on June 19th, Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of slaves in the United States following the Civil War. It was first celebrated in Galveston, Texas where on June 19th, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger announced the following, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free” (Associated Press, 2023). This meant slavery was no longer permitted and African Americans were ensured personal rights. Celebrations immediately began with parades and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation. This marked a second Independence Day as African Americans gaining their inalienable rights were compared to 1776 when the U.S. gained independence from Great Britain. Not only were African Americans and formerly enslaved people now free but they had more opportunities than ever before. For instance, some worked for more social reform or even attempted to run for office. It is crucial to understand that without the 13th Amendment, this social change would have never been possible. Even though Abraham Lincoln began the movement by declaring the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War, it only freed slaves in Confederate states, while the 13th Amendment freed slaves nationally (Taylor, 2024). As stated by Abraham Lincoln, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”  However, this amendment did not prevent a new form of slavery that would soon emerge. Law enforcement took advantage of the phrase “...except as a punishment for crime” and would arrest or hurt African Americans for small inconveniences. Regardless of the long history that Juneteenth has in the United States, it only became a national holiday on June 19th, 2021. It stems from the protests against police brutality in 2020 with the most well-known example being George Floyd’s death. During this time, the Black Lives Matter movement also known as BLM was prompted and as a result, sparked conversations concerning racial justice and equality. Prior to Joe Biden signing Juneteenth as a federal holiday, it was a lengthy process. It began with 96-year-old Opal Lee, a dedicated activist who was the first to begin a campaign advocating for Juneteenth to be a national holiday. After rallies and support for the holiday by many citizens, The United States House of Representatives officially voted on the bill and received over 400 votes in favor of it (Taylor 2024). It was then implemented and effective immediately. Similar to Juneteenth celebrations in 1866 and other current national holidays, festivities include processions and community events with food and games. However, it is important to recognize that Juneteenth is more than a day off work or school, it is a celebration of freedom and equality for all. Since Juneteenth was declared as an official holiday it has created more public awareness and education for all. By bringing attention to this news especially for young people that are continuously getting the opportunities to learn more about the struggles and challenges their country has faced and are still facing. Historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and many others have spent their lives working for not only African American equality but also the chance for recognition and celebrating black individuals. Juneteenth is only a small example of the many ways the United States has progressed in enforcing remembrance and reflection that paves the way for a more inclusive society. Juneteenth stands as a powerful symbol of freedom and resilience, marking the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and the ongoing quest for equality and justice. It deserves to be commemorated not only because of its significance in history but also because there are over 40 million African Americans in the United States who make contributions to politics, the economy, and society every day.  

 

 

Sources: Juneteenth: The History - The New York Times (nytimes.com) 

The Story Behind Juneteenth and How It Became a Federal Holiday | Chicago News | WTTW 

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is Passed | National Museum of African American History and Culture (si.edu) 

Juneteenth | National Museum of African American History and Culture (si.edu) 

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