A Juneteenth Article

Perhaps someone recently has asked you, “Have you heard about our new day off?” 

Or…

“It’s a new holiday? Juneteenth.” 

Juneteenth is not new. That is a fact some people are only just learning, while others struggle to comprehend how anyone could be unaware of its existence and significance. Each year, Juneteenth (which combines June and 19th) is supposed to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The celebration refers to an event that took place in Texas in 1865 (which we will discuss further, below).

We understand that while the deplorable act of legally owning another human has ended, there are many advocates who rightfully feel that slavery is alive and well via our prison, criminal, economic and social systems. We also recognize that, historically, many lives remained enslaved after that date. 

An annual holiday, Juneteenth has been celebrated by African-Americans (and by Black Americans, as well) since the late 1800s. But in recent years, and particularly following nationwide protests over police brutality, it has become more acknowledged by groups who have been educated on this holiday, refocusing their attention on this day. 

In the midst of our country’s unrest via racial injustice, we thought it pertinent to create a short “survey of knowledge” for the Juneteenth novice to learn and the Juneteenth expert to remember and appreciate. 

You may also be asking, “Why is this relevant to a Fat Acceptance publication like Bold Magazine?” Well: 

1- Fat Acceptance and Body Positivity have major ties to Black American women, who are responsible, in large part, for founding both movements (we have written a few articles on this and will continue to write more). 

2- Sit ins, marches, and other forms of civil rebellion are a part of both the body positive and civil rights movements. 

3- Regardless of their ties, we are a liberal publication who supports diversity of all types. And, with our voice, we’d like to continue to help educate those who accept and request that education. 

The Very First Juneteenth

The story of Juneteenth begins in Texas when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, with an announcement. As the community listened to the reading of General Orders, Number 3, the people of Galveston learned for the first time that the Civil War was over. After more than a century of slavery and years of war, it was official. All slaves were now freed

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day. The celebration of Juneteenth grew from the profound experiences that day when many learned of their freedom. 

News traveled slowly during and after the War between the States. Over two years earlier, President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Certain states required official word that slaves were free. We’ve attached a timeline for you to review: 

Emancipation Timeline (from PBS.com)
  • January 1, 1863 – Emancipation Proclamation signed
  • April 9, 1865 – General Robert E. Lee surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia
  • April 14, 1865 – John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Abraham Lincoln – Lincoln dies April 15, 1865
  • May 12, 1865 – Final battle of Civil War at Palmito Ranch, Texas  (Confederate victory)
  • May 26, 1865 – Civil War officially ends when General Simon Bolivar Buckner of the Army of Trans-Mississippi enters terms of surrender
  • June 19, 1865 – Major General Gordon Granger arrives in Galveston, Texas
  • December 6, 1865 – 13th Amendment abolishing slavery ratified
  • August 20, 1866 – President Andrew Johson proclaims conflict officially resolved and peace restored

Not Included on the PBS Timeline: 

We acknowledge that this timeline is incomplete. For example, here’s one date/group that has been excluded, among others. 

Stand Watie- The last significant Confederate active force to surrender was the Confederate allied Cherokee Brigadier General Stand Watie and his [Native American] soldiers on June 23. The last Confederate surrender occurred on November 6, 1865, when the Confederate warship CSS Shenandoah surrendered at Liverpool, England (Wikipedia.com) 

The original celebration became an annual one, and it grew in popularity over the years with the addition of descendants, according to Juneteenth.com, which tracks celebrations. The day was celebrated by praying and bringing families together. In some celebrations on this day, men and women who had been enslaved, and their descendants, made an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston (from the NY Times)

Juneteenth Today

Despite that freedom, astronomical challenges lay ahead. The observance of this holiday continues to grow from the perseverance required and the dignity to overcome adversity and achieve fulfillment in today’s changing racial climate. 

Year after year, waves of people pilgrimaging to Galveston stand in one of the last places to receive the news. The celebrations spread much like the news spread to Galveston about freedom, slowly at first and then picking up speed. But Galveston isn’t the only place celebrations take place. Juneteenth Jubilees happen all over the country and world. In 2015, Juneteenth celebrated its 150th anniversary and celebrations spread around the globe.

In the U.S., 47 states officially recognize the observance. New Hampshire most recently made the observance official in 2019. The remaining three states are Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota. While the celebration is not a federal holiday, presidents have either remarked on the observance or released full messages specific to Juneteenth for the last two decades. However, no single president has proclaimed the observance, even for a single year (PBS.com)

Recently, due to the pressure from black leaders and non-black allies, many organizations are observing the holiday this year, with plans to include it in their list of holidays or potential floating holidays in years to come. 

It has changed the course of President Trump’s plans. U.S. President Trump had planned to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on the holiday, June 19. Late last week, Mr. Trump, bowing to pressure, announced that he would delay it for one day. This is a small but important victory. 

How can You Observe Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is and has always been a celebration of African-American history via exploring art, food, and history. Folks dive into the festivals celebrating the African-American culture that are integral to Juneteenth. Across the country, communities, vendors, galleries, and more, host delicious food, art, music, dance, and parades (from NationalHoliday.com)

There are many ways to experience the observance (from PBS.com):

  • Read the Emancipation Proclamation
  • Watch documentaries about the announcement in Texas
    • Juneteenth Jamboree by PBS
    • A Time to Be Remembered (A Juneteenth Story) written by Hank Gray
  • Attend a festival and share your experiences
  • Read stories about Juneteenth to your children or for your own enlightenment
  • Raise a Juneteenth flag which is half red, half blue with a white 5 point star in the middle. The star is surrounded by a white 12 point star. The flag symbolizes Texas bursting with freedom and the end of slavery.
  • Find a festival or event near you. Share your experiences, photos, and stories using #Juneteenth to share on social media.
  • Find more at http://juneteenth.com 

An Interesting Fact (from PBS.com):

There were other available anniversaries for celebrating emancipation, to be sure, including the following:

  • Sept. 22: the day Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation Order in 1862
  • Jan. 1: the day it took effect in 1863
  • Jan. 31: the date the 13th Amendment passed Congress in 1865, officially abolishing the institution of slavery
  • Dec. 6: the day the 13th Amendment was ratified that year
  • April 3: the day Richmond, Va., fell
  • April 9: the day Lee surrendered to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox, Va.
  • April 16: the day slavery was abolished in the nation’s capital in 1862
  • May 1: Decoration Day, which, as David Blight movingly recounts in Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, the former slaves of Charleston, S.C., founded by giving the Union war dead a proper burial at the site of the fallen planter elite’s Race Course
  • July 4: America’s first Independence Day, some “four score and seven years” before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation

[FEATURED IMAGE: Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900, Texas]

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