juneteenth

Juneteenth: The Symbolic Celebration of the End of Slavery in the United States

By Sabrina Fani

juneteenth

One hundred and fifty-five years ago to the day, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Texas with the announcement that the Civil War had ended, and that slaves had been freed.[1] As time has passed, many have come to regard June 19th, or rather, Juneteenth, as the day enslaved people were freed and slavery ended. However, that is not exactly the case.

 

In fact, General Granger’s news was delivered nearly two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the United States as of January 1, 1963.[2] Devastatingly, about 250,000 slaves in Texas were unaware that they had been freed during that time span.[3] Because many slave owners continued to hold slaves captive after President Lincoln’s declaration, Juneteenth has become a symbolic date that celebrates African American Freedom.[4] The reality of the matter is that even after General Granger’s announcement, many enslavers continued to withhold the information from its slaves and oppressive racism persisted in Texas.[5]

 

Over the years, many have attempted to explain the two-and-a-half-year gap that prevented slaves in Texas from learning of their freedom. In 1865, the United States was in the middle of the Civil War, and states like Texas that had withdrawn from the Union did not uphold the Emancipation Proclamation.[6] Some believe that a messenger was killed on his way to Texas with news of emancipation or that the information was “deliberately withheld from enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations.”[7]

 

Today, Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery.[8] Many observe the holiday annually as a day for education, reflection, family gatherings, and rejoicing.[9] However, Juneteenth is still not as widely recognized as it should be. President Trump recently caused controversy by claiming he made Juneteenth “famous” by scheduling a political rally in Tulsa on the holiday.[10] In an interview with Wall Street Journal, Trump claims, “I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous.”[11] He continued to express, “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”[12] The President’s statements have been met with criticism as millions of African Americans have long celebrated Juneteenth.[13] Celebrations of Juneteenth began in 1866, a year after General Granger’s announcement. Black men, women, and children observed the holiday by “dress[ing] in their finest attire and gather[ing] to sing spirituals, pray, play baseball and eat.”[14]

 

emancipationproclamation          Amidst the recent protests demanding racial equality and recognition, the nation is beginning to recognize its shortcomings in education, including the absence of major Black historical events like Juneteenth from history classes.[15] Educators believe that “what has and what has not been taught in school have been part of erasing the history of systemic racism in America and the contributions of Black people and other minority groups.”[16] Incorporating events that are so often erased from history books is necessary to end the “long legacy of institutional racism that is barely covered in mainstream corporate curriculum.”[17]

 

Although Juneteenth continues to be celebrated nationwide, it is not recognized as a national holiday. Major companies like Target and Best Buy are declaring Juneteenth as a national paid holiday for its employees.[18] The entertainment industry has also heavily weighed in on the issue. Singer Pharell Williams joined Governor Ralph Northam in Richmond, Virginia to announce legislation to make Juneteenth a state holiday.[19] Usher also stressed the importance of making June 19th a national holiday in a Washington Post opinion piece.

 

As the United States continues develop into one that takes accountability for its past wrongdoings, incorporating events such as Juneteenth into mainstream American education and culture is imperative for a more racially equal and accepting nation. In observance of the holiday, today presents the perfect opportunity to reflect, educate, and recognize African American history and culture.

[1] History of Juneteenth, Juneteenth.com, https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm.

[2] Id.

[3] DeNeen L. Brown, Juneteenth Celebrates ‘A Moment of Indescribable Joy’: Slavery’s End in Texas, Washington Post (June 18, 2020, 9:25 AM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/06/18/juneteenth-holiday-history-slavery-george-floyd/.

[4] History of Juneteenth, supra.

[5] Brown, supra.

[6] Ko Bragg, 9 Things to Know About the History of Juneteenth, NBC News (June 19, 2016, 12:11 PM), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/9-things-know-about-history-juneteenth-n594546.

[7] History of Juneteenth, supra.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Brown, supra.

[11] Michael C. Bender, Trump Talks Juneteenth, John Bolton, Economy in WSJ Interview, The Wall Street Journal (June 18, 2020, 3:07 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-talks-juneteenth-john-bolton-economy-in-wsj-interview-11592493771.

[12] Id.

[13] Brown, supra.

[14] Id.

[15] Daniella Silva, From Juneteenth to the Tulsa Massacre: What Isn’t Taught in Classrooms has a Profound Impact, NBC News (June 18, 2020, 2:04 PM), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/juneteenth-tulsa-massacre-what-isn-t-taught-classrooms-has-profound-n1231442.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Kelley Corbett, Target, JC Penney, Best Buy, and More Declare Juneteenth a Paid National Holiday for Employees, House Beautiful (June 17, 2020), https://www.housebeautiful.com/shopping/a32894180/target-jc-penney-best-buy-nike-juneteenth-paid-employee-holiday/.

[19] Klaritza Rico, Pharrell Joins Virginia Governor to Announce Legislation to Make Juneteenth an Official State Holiday, Variety (June 16, 2020, 1:47 PM), https://variety.com/2020/music/news/pharrell-virginia-juneteenth-holiday-1234637302/.

 

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Sabrina Fani is a second year student at Loyola Law School concentrating in Business and Entertainment Law.