Juneteenth (officially Juneteenth National Independence Day and historically known as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, and Black Independence Day) is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of African-American slaves. It is also often observed for celebrating African-American culture. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it has been celebrated annually on June 19 in various parts of the United States since 1865. The day was recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. Juneteenth’s commemoration is on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865, announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom for slaves in Texas, which was the last state of the Confederacy with institutional slavery.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863, had officially outlawed slavery in Texas and in all of the other Southern secessionist states of the original Confederacy except for Confederacy areas already under Northern Control. Enforcement of the Proclamation generally relied upon the advance of Union troops. Texas, as the most remote state of the former Confederacy, had seen an expansion of slavery and had a low presence of Union troops as the American Civil War ended; thus, enforcement there had been slow and inconsistent prior to Granger’s announcement. Although the Emancipation Proclamation declared an end to slavery in the Confederate States, for a short while after the fall of the Confederacy, due to certain political considerations slavery remained legal in the two Union border states – Delaware and Kentucky. This seemingly conflicted situation ended both with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which constitutionally abolished chattel slavery nationwide on December 6, 1865, and also with the final actual release of slaves by the Indian Territories that had sided with the Confederacy, namely the Choctaw, in 1866.
Celebrations date to 1866, at first involving church-centered community gatherings in Texas. It spread across the South and became more commercialized in the 1920s and 1930s, often centering on a food festival. Participants in the Great Migration out of the South carried their celebrations to other parts of the country. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, these celebrations were eclipsed by the nonviolent determination to achieve civil rights, but grew in popularity again in the 1970s with a focus on African American freedom and African-American arts. Beginning with Texas by proclamation in 1938, and by legislation in 1979, 49 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have formally recognized the holiday in various ways. With its adoption in certain parts of Mexico, the holiday became an international holiday. Juneteenth is celebrated by the Mascogos, descendants of Black Seminoles who escaped from slavery in 1852 and settled in Coahuila, Mexico.
Celebratory traditions often include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, and the reading of works by noted African-American writers, such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Some Juneteenth celebrations also include rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, and Miss Juneteenth contests. When Juneteenth became a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, it was the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was adopted in 1983.
CELEBRATIONS AND TRADITIONS:
The holiday is considered the “longest-running African-American holiday” and has been called “America’s second Independence Day”. Juneteenth is usually celebrated on the third Saturday in June. Historian Mitch Kachun considers that celebrations of the end of slavery have three goals: “to celebrate, to educate, and to agitate”. Early celebrations consisted of baseball, fishing, and rodeos. African Americans were often prohibited from using public facilities for their celebrations, so they were often held at churches or near water. Celebrations were also characterized by elaborate large meals and people wearing their best clothing. It was common for former slaves and their descendants to make a pilgrimage to Galveston. As early festivals received news coverage, Janice Hume and Noah Arceneaux consider that they “served to assimilate African-American memories within the dominant ‘American story’.
Observance today is primarily in local celebrations. In many places, Juneteenth has become a multicultural holiday. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, and reading of works by noted African-American writers, such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Celebrations include picnics, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, blues festivals and Miss Juneteenth contests. Strawberry soda is a traditional drink associated with the celebration. The Mascogos, the descendants of Black Seminoles, who have resided in Coahuila, Mexico, since 1852, also celebrate Juneteenth.
Juneteenth celebrations often include lectures and exhibitions on African-American culture. The modern holiday places much emphasis upon teaching about African-American heritage. Karen M. Thomas wrote in Emerge that “community leaders have latched on to [Juneteenth] to help instill a sense of heritage and pride in black youth.” Celebrations are commonly accompanied by voter registration efforts, the performing of plays, and retelling stories. The holiday is also a celebration of soul food and other food with African-American influences. In Tourism Review International, Anne Donovan and Karen DeBres write that “Barbecue is the centerpiece of most Juneteenth celebrations”.