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Juneteenth: 159 Years of Celebration, Freedom, and Honoring the Past

What is Juneteenth

Juneteenth, observed on June 19th, is a significant day in American history that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. On this day in 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that all enslaved people were free, enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln two and a half years earlier. Despite the proclamation, slavery had continued in Texas due to the lack of Union soldiers and the unwillingness of many citizens to share this crucial information with the enslaved population.

 

Juneteenth became a federally recognized holiday in the United States on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.

 

What is the Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War. It declared that all enslaved people in the Confederate states that were in rebellion against the Union were permanently freed. However, it did not immediately free all enslaved people in the United States, as it only applied to states that had seceded from the Union, and not to slave-holding border states or parts of the Confederacy already under Northern control.



A group of finely dressed people, two women and four men, celebrating Juneteenth on June 19, 1900 in Austin, Texas
Emancipation Day celebration, June 19, 1900 held in East Woods on East 24th Street in Austin, Texas

 

What happened in Texas on and after the first Juneteenth

The experiences of the newly freed on and after Juneteenth in Texas were complex and varied, marked by both newfound freedom and ongoing challenges as they navigated the aftermath of slavery and the realities of post-Civil War America. The exact number of slaves freed on Juneteenth is difficult to determine. However, according to the 1860 United States Census, there were approximately 250,000 enslaved people in Texas.

 

The announcement of freedom on Juneteenth in Galveston did not reach all enslaved people in Texas simultaneously. The news spread gradually throughout the state, with some African Americans learning of their freedom weeks or even months later. Even after learning of their emancipation, many formerly enslaved people faced significant challenges. Some plantation owners forced them to continue working, while others threatened or physically harmed them for attempting to leave. There were limited opportunities economically and educationally for the recently freed people as well as continued prejudice and racism.

 

Why is Juneteenth important

Juneteenth is a day that holds immense importance as it acknowledges the history of slavery and its lasting impact on the United States. The enslavement of African people, which began in 1619 when the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia, is an integral part of American history. By the end of the Civil War, 4 million out of the 31.5 million people in the United States were enslaved, and 200,000 Black soldiers had fought for the Union in the Army and Navy to secure their own freedom and the freedom of others.

 

The celebration of Juneteenth has been a long-standing tradition within the Black community, serving as a reminder of the day when all enslaved people in the United States were finally granted their freedom. It is a time for rejoicing, reflection, and recognizing the sacrifices made by and significant work to liberate those who are part of the 400-year history of slavery in America.

 

How can we celebrate and honor Juneteenth

To celebrate and honor Juneteenth, both in and out of the workplace, there are several ways to engage with the holiday:

  1. Learn more about the history of slavery and its impact on the United States by visiting educational resources such as the US Park Service site dedicated to African American Heritage.

  2. Attend local Juneteenth events, such as religious services, educational seminars, music festivals, and family gatherings, to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the holiday.

  3. Support Black-owned businesses and organizations that promote equity and celebrate Black culture and history.

  4. Explore the Smithsonian’s website dedicated to all things Juneteenth, including playlists, reading lists, crossword puzzles, and more.

 

What can workplaces do to support Juneteenth

In the workplace, employers can show support for Juneteenth by providing information about Black history and the critical contributions the Black community has made and continues to make to the United States. Recognizing this holiday and honoring the past is a step towards creating a more inclusive and equitable work environment for all employees.

 

Why is it crucial to continue the conversation about Juneteenth

Juneteenth serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and the work that still needs to be done to achieve true equity for all. By celebrating this day, we acknowledge the resilience and strength of the Black community, honor the sacrifices of those who fought for freedom, and commit to creating a better future for all Americans.

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