A set of statues at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice shows enslaved people bound by chains. Human Pictures/Equal Justice Initiative

“What does Juneteenth mean to you?” I  asked a friend the other day. 

We took a stroll down memory lane. She told me stories of her as a kid guzzling down red soda (aka strawberry soda) and munching on red velvet cake with her family on a special day every summer.

Some summers she’d eat delicious BBQ and dance the afternoon away with her family and friends at Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas

As she got ready for the festivities for the day, she mentioned her grandmother often told her, “Before you leave, put on a red shirt.” Little did she know the pervasive theme of ‘red’ food and clothes symbolized the resilience of black people throughout the years. 

Red drinks are an essential part of the Juneteenth food experience. VIKTORIA F / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

I’ll tell you what, though. She didn’t learn about how significant Juneteenth was in high school or college. In fact, many academic spaces conveniently brush over this topic. More on that later.

For now, we’ll try to understand the rich history of Juneteenth and why we should celebrate more than ever today. So, let’s dive right in.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, “June” and “nineteenth” (June 19), is a holiday many communities celebrate commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. in 1865. Jubilee Day and Freedom Day are alternative names to Juneteenth. Where did it start? 

The celebrations began in Texas, but now cities and towns across the U.S. celebrate this holiday. When did they start to celebrate? Black people celebrated a year after once they heard word that they were free in Texas.

Black Americans celebrating on June 19, 1900, in Texas. COURTESY OF AUSTIN HISTORY CENTER, AUSTIN PUBLIC LIBRARY.

In the past, black people spent these celebrations comforting one another and praying. Some also gathered broken up families because of slavery. Little did they know. They’ll soon experience status as a “non-existent person” during the Jim Crow era after their freedom.

Remembering what happened on June 19, 1865, helped them cope with the harsh reality of what they experienced as “non-persons” in America. Today, Juneteenth takes on a less reflective vibe, though —  it has become a day filled with food, festivals, and fun.

For what it’s worth. Juneteenth still symbolizes the unrelenting resilience black people have during times of adversity.

How did Juneteenth start?

After the Civil War ended, Gordon Granger, a Union army general, arrived in Galveston, TX on, June 19, 1865. Why was he there? 

He came to Texas two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This document declared all slaves free.

General Granger issued General Order No. 3, and he said, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Now, wait a minute. You might be thinking, why did it take two years? Well, Texas was one of the states that left the Union during the Civil War. Freedom was elusive for many people in the confederate and remote areas. 

It’s no surprise, black people in Texas weren’t aware of their freedom until Granger showed up on the scene. With the help of General Granger and his 1,800 federal troops, black people overcame any resistance to their freedom.

According to Vox,

“[Juneteenth] marks the moment when [freedom] finally reached those in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy.”

Today, 155 years later, 47 states have established Juneteenth as a holiday or day of observance. Right now, activists and Congress are hard at work to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. 

We don’t have the justice and peace we deserve even now, but “we shall overcome” someday… we built America and contribute to the culture in so many ways. 

Why is it so important to celebrate Juneteenth today?

Immense pain describes the mood right now. Countless back-to-back injustices have happened to black people in the U.S. The truth is, we needed justice like yesterday. Sometimes we might feel powerless to change the state of things.

How do we reclaim our peace of mind and a renewed sense of joy amid the chaos? We can use Juneteenth to celebrate how beautiful, bold, and brave we are and come together to affirm our humanity.

We should spend time with the people we love at a BBQ cookout, at the beach, or doing something fun anywhere else. If being out and about right now isn’t your thing because of the virus. It’s okay. I got you! 

Some fabulous social virtual events are coming up this week.  You can attend events ranging from Soul Food cooking demonstrations, African drumming, concerts, and so much more. Find more Juneteenth celebration inspiration for our time here

We Will Overcome

Juneteenth is a day for us to celebrate our resilience, perseverance, and unshakable hope. Juneteenth for this nation serves as a reminder to recognize the trauma caused by the enslavement of over 4 million people. 

Some people believe black people already have their freedom, and they can’t understand what else we need. They should consider this, what is freedom when others see black people as less than human?

So, let’s continue in this fight for real freedom and justice for all. In the meantime, let’s make room for fun, relaxation, plus a little reflection for Juneteenth. Want to get involved today? 

Sign National Juneteenth Observance Foundation’s petition to make June 19 a national holiday.

All right, I hope you enjoy your Juneteenth celebrations!