Juneteenth has many names, all of which can be used interchangeably including Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, and Liberation Day. Whichever name is used, each year, June 19th serves as a time to celebrate freedom and the end of slavery in the United States. People who are unfamiliar with the history behind this commemorative day may question its significance. After all, most Americans were taught that all enslaved Black people were freed after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. Like most of U.S. history, the rights and liberties of oppressed people were not upheld, and instead, they were blocked by those who benefited from others’ continued suffering. It was not until June 19, 1865, that Black people in Texas would even receive word that they had been declared free.
Adherence to the Emancipation Proclamation was limited by the reach of the Union Army and the number of Union troops that could enforce it. For two and a half years, slavery in Texas continued as if the proclamation had not been issued due to the minor presence of the Union in the southern state. After the Civil War ended, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with Union troops, established authority over the people in Texas, and issued the order enforcing President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. On that day, June 19, 1865, Black people in Galveston learned of their emancipation and it signaled the freedom of over 250,000 enslaved people in Texas.
Juneteenth holds great meaning to the Black community and culture, but the year 2020 reminded us that we need to take every possible opportunity to celebrate our freedom and what it means to be a Black person in America. The world watched the murder of George Floyd at the hands of people who were sworn to protect him. His right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was taken away much like our ancestors who suffered the consequences of slavery even after they were proclaimed to be free people. George Floyd was not the first nor the last to lose their life to hate, bigotry, and injustice. While acknowledging the systemic oppression Black people experience every day, we must take time to celebrate our victories, accomplishments, and contributions to society. Our story is one of triumph and never-ending perseverance towards justice and equity.
There is no one way to celebrate Juneteenth. One person may spend time with their loved ones and attend a celebration of Black culture – and yes, a cookout counts! Another person might participate in activism and continue to educate themselves and others about Black history and the social movements that keep hope for a better future alive.
Last year, I checked in with my nieces to make sure that they knew why this holiday with an interesting name was important. I was delighted to hear that unlike my experience in school, their formal education included at least a basic lesson on the significance of Juneteenth. This year, I will celebrate by attending my husband’s event called “Black Girl Magic Stories” on June 19th. I am excited to listen to a diverse group of amazing Black women share their experiences which involve their individual perspectives, struggles, and triumphs.
Freedom is a human right and one that I cherish. I hope that we all do our part to keep the spirit of Juneteenth alive for future generations and allow ourselves to imagine the jubilation those who came before us felt when they finally heard that they were free!
Looking for ways to celebrate Juneteenth or to learn more about it’s history?
- Celebrating Juneteenth with the National Museum of African American History & Culture – an Interactive Tour with Founding Director Lonnie Bunch III
- Juneteenth – A celebration of Resilience with the National Museum of African American History & Culture
- NY Times – Juneteenth Article
- Juneteenth | Nantucket Book Festival
- Amazon Book – On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
- University System of Maryland makes Juneteenth an institutional holiday – The Washington Post
- Juneteenth Freedom Day Maryland Events for 2021 | Chesapeake Family
- Juneteenth at Webflow
*Written by Josh M., Certified Navigator Team Lead & HCAM’s Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee Chair