Juneteenth: An Important Celebration of Emancipation, History and Culture
The Fourth of July may be the most widely known Independence Day in the United States — but it isn’t the only important holiday commemorating independence. Juneteenth, which is also called Emancipation Day, takes place on June 19 every year and memorializes the official end of slavery in the United States.
While this important tradition has been taking place since 1866, only in recent years has it begun getting more well-deserved attention. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square, announced that Juneteenth is becoming an observed company holiday in 2020. Video game developer Electronic Arts also now provides employees a paid day off on June 19, encouraging workers to volunteer in their communities to mark the occasion.
These efforts to recognize the significance of Juneteenth are commendable, but one of the best ways you can begin to appreciate and honor this holiday is to understand the depth of meaning it holds for Black communities. Get started by learning more about the history and importance of Juneteenth, along with the interesting traditions and celebrations that surround it.
What Led to Juneteenth?
On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This document declared that, as of January 1, 1863, any slaves in states fighting against the Union in the Civil War were "thenceforward and forever free" and the "Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, [would] recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons." Although the Emancipation Proclamation was symbolically important and changed the focus of the Civil War from maintaining the Union to ending slavery, and although it appeared to express sweeping freedom for enslaved people, it didn’t actually free anyone.
“Walkin’ on Golden Clouds” — Juneteenth Takes Off
Texas was the last of the Confederate states to have the order read, and upon its announcement, former slaves rejoiced. The language in "General Order No. 3" dictated that the relationship between slave owners and formerly enslaved people would become one of employers and hired laborers, and that slaves would no longer be considered property. Upon learning of this, many former slaves left right away — some while General Granger was still reading the order — eager to seek new lives in more welcoming areas of the country.
Juneteenth’s Significance and Symbolism
Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, and others have followed suit over the past few decades; it’s now a state holiday or day of observance in 47 of 50 states. It’s noteworthy that states have chosen to honor the holiday this way, and officially designating it as such helps bring awareness to this meaningful occasion. But it’s because Juneteenth is significant that it was designated an official holiday, not the other way around. What does it represent to those who celebrate and to Black communities?
Juneteenth traditions are as varied and diverse as the regions of the United States where they’re celebrated. Many of the celebrations reflect local cultures; for example, festivities in the Southwest usually involve rodeos, a longtime cultural institution there, while in the South, people host barbecues and blues concerts and serve strawberry soda, red velvet cake and fruits.