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Why Do We Celebrate Juneteenth?

What exactly is Juneteenth, and why do Americans celebrate it?

Credit: Simran Mehan/Canva

Celebrated on June 19th, Juneteenth marks a turning point in American history. It honors the abolition of slavery in the United States and is a time for introspection, learning, and joy. Juneteenth, which began in Texas in 1865, has come to represent the continuous fight for equality as well as the historical accomplishments of African Americans.

Historical background

Juneteenth’s origins trace back to the Civil War era. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which aimed to free all slaves in Confederate states. However, its enforcement depended on Union military victories.

The proclamation had little effect in Texas, the westernmost Confederate state, due to the lack of Union soldiers. Slavery continued there for another two and a half years. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and declared the liberation of more than 250,000 enslaved individuals in the state.

The freshly released African Americans immediately celebrated the news of their freedom. The name of this day was coined “Juneteenth,” a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth.” Juneteenth was first observed with prayer services, spirituals, and joyous family get-togethers.

Early celebrations and challenges

After 1865, Texas was the main site of Juneteenth celebrations. Freedmen and their descendants often bought land for annual festivals, featuring music, barbecues, and other activities. Despite its importance, Juneteenth faced challenges from segregationist regulations and Jim Crow laws.

In the early 20th century, Juneteenth celebrations declined due to economic struggles and the Great Migration, which moved many African Americans from the rural South to urban areas in the North. However, interest in the holiday was revived during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

The modern movement

In the 1980s and 1990s, Juneteenth experienced a modern comeback. The designation of Juneteenth as a state and federal holiday was pushed for by activists and local authorities. Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth an official holiday, doing so in 1980. Other states were motivated to emulate this milestone.

End of Slavery
Credit: Ann H/Pexels

Towards the beginning of the twenty-first century, there was a national push to observe Juneteenth. President Joe Biden enacted the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17, 2021. In recognition of Juneteenth’s importance in American history, this law declared it a federal holiday.

Cultural significance and traditions

Juneteenth commemorates African American culture and tradition and goes beyond being merely a historical date. While customs differ from community to community, parades, cookouts, and educational events are common. Meals and beverages, which stand for tenacity and inventiveness, are frequently offered.

Juneteenth events revolve around music. To celebrate the contributions of African Americans to music, performances of genres like gospel, blues, and jazz take place. Poetry readings and historical dramatizations serve to further underline how rich Black culture is.

Fighting Slavery
Credit: tasha-jolley/Pexels

One of the main elements of Juneteenth is education. Programs teaching the history of slavery, emancipation, and the ongoing struggle for civil rights are held at schools, museums, and other cultural establishments. Through these initiatives, the country hopes to promote a more thorough knowledge of African American history and its influence on the country.

The relevance of Juneteenth today

In modern America, Juneteenth is still incredibly relevant. It highlights the continued fight for equality as well as the history of slavery in the country. On consideration of topics including social justice, institutional racism, and economic inequality, the holiday is observed.

Juneteenth has received increased attention in the last few years as the Black Lives Matter campaign gained momentum. Advocacy and reform are still needed, which is demonstrated by the protests against racial inequality and police brutality. Juneteenth offers a forum for these conversations, encouraging action and unity.

Black Lives Matter Protest
Credit: leslie-cross/Unsplash

Juneteenth has gained a great deal of corporate and governmental recognition. The holiday is widely observed by businesses, who offer paid time off to staff members or arrange educational activities. This change is a result of a greater understanding of the value of inclusiveness and variety.

Celebrating progress and inspiring change

Embracing Freedom
Credit: heather-mount/Unsplash

Juneteenth is a celebration of advancement but also a reminder of the work still to be done. It celebrates the tenacity, accomplishments, and social contributions of African Americans. In addition, the celebration fosters optimism and a dedication to creating a fairer future.

Juneteenth is celebrated in a variety of ways by communities all around the country. Community service projects, storytelling sessions, and speeches by prominent citizens are common features of local gatherings.

People come together to honor the past and influence the future at these events, which promote a sense of unity and purpose.

Conclusion

Juneteenth is a tribute to the resilient spirit of African Americans and a profound emblem of freedom. From its beginnings in Texas to its designation as a federal holiday, Juneteenth represents the fight for freedom and the triumph of human dignity. As the country grapples with its past and seeks justice, Juneteenth remains a beacon of hope and a call to action.

It reminds us that achieving freedom is an ongoing process requiring awareness, education, and a commitment to equality for all. By celebrating Juneteenth, we honor those who fought for freedom and acknowledge the challenges that remain.

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As a master's journalism student, I'm learning the art of storytelling. My goal is to share stories that inform and engage people, while making a positive impact in the media world.

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