The History of Juneteenth

On June 19, 1865, approximately two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va., Union General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to notify enslaved African Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. General Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two and a half years earlier, on Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln.


The Proclamation acknowledged that Black people in the Confederate states were no longer slaves. Secondly, it acknowledged that white people in the Confederate states were no longer masters. Finally, it highlights “absolute equality” regarding discrimination, personal rights and property. However, it wasn’t until 100 years later, in August 1965, that the Voting Rights Act was signed into law to prohibit discriminatory practices that prevented African Americans from voting. Although the 15th Amendment, which was signed into law in 1870, already established African Americans’ right to vote, it took almost 100 years, and another law, to enforce it.



The Journey to a National Holiday.


In 1980, Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth as a holiday. All 50 states and the District of Columbia now recognize the day in some form. In the wake of the nationwide protests against police brutality in 2020, the push for federal recognition of Juneteenth gained new momentum, and Congress quickly pushed through legislation in the summer of 2021.


In the House, the measure passed by a vote of 415 to 14, with all of the opposition coming from Republicans, some of whom argued that calling the new holiday Juneteenth Independence Day, echoing July 4, would create confusion and force Americans to choose a celebration of freedom based on their race.


On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed the bill into law, making Juneteenth the 11th holiday recognized by the federal government. The law went into effect immediately, and the first federal Juneteenth holiday was celebrated the following day.



The Juneteenth Flag


The Flag was created in 1977 by activist Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, with the help of illustrator Lisa Jeanna Graf. Deliberately consisting of a red, white, and blue color scheme just like the American flag, the Juneteenth flag has a white star in the center, meant to represent both Texas (the Lone Star State), as well as the freedom of enslaved people in all 50 states. In that same vein, the white bursting outline surrounding the star is said to have been inspired by a nova, which is an astronomical event that marks the birth of a new star—in this instance symbolizing a new beginning for African Americans in the United States. The arc that extends across the width of the flag, at the intersection of the red and blue sections, is yet another symbol of a new beginning, or rather, a new horizon. The red, white, and blue color scheme that mimics that of the American flag was a conscious choice, meant to connote that enslaved people (who were not granted citizenships) and their descendants were and always have been Americans, as well as signifying the United States’ continued responsibility to do right by those affected by the continued injustices faced by Black Americans that are still yet to be fully dismantled.



How is it celebrated?


Early celebrations involved prayer and family gatherings, and later included annual pilgrimages to Galveston by former enslaved people and their families, according to Juneteenth.com.


In 1872, a group of African American ministers and businessmen in Houston purchased 10 acres of land and created Emancipation Park which was intended to hold the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Today, while some celebrations take place among families in backyards where food is an integral element, some cities, like Washington DC, Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Tulsa, hold larger events, including parades and festivals with residents, local businesses and more.


Story credit New York Times


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