Every year on June 19th, Black Americans around the country celebrate “Juneteenth” to commemorate the day Union Officer General Gordon Granger issued an order to slave masters in Galveston, Texas to free enslaved Africans.
This was necessary since the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Abraham Lincoln announced nearly three years prior, did not have jurisdiction over confederate states like Texas and technically didn’t free a single enslaved Black person.
Though the holiday has evolved to commemorate Black people’s freedom from slavery generally, and not just in Texas, it’s important to note that 200,000 union soldiers and war strategists like Harriet Tubman (refer to this hilarious Drunk History sketch featuring Crissle and Octavia Spencer) led grassroots efforts to emancipate Black people themselves, so not everyone was waiting for the General to give them an announcement.
Further, like any gains Black people make in this country, a significant number of White Americans pushed back with lynchings, terror, and other forms of violence to resist the general’s orders. While freedom was ordered by the Union army and legally binding, many Black people still had to enforce it on their own.
Nevertheless, June 19th became the most identifiable and consistent date to commemorate Black people’s freedom from slavery in the United States. Consequently, many prefer to celebrate Juneteenth instead of America’s Independence Day since, as Frederick Douglas once said, 4th of July for Black Americans was basically a “sham.”
While many cities enjoyed Juneteenth festivities over the weekend, you can still celebrate today. A number of Texas towns will celebrate with parades and family-oriented gatherings. For New Yorkers, you can either indulge in a boozy turn up or celebrate with prominent activists and community leaders at the Columbia University Center for Justice.
For those who just want to reflect and read further about this important, and often misinterpreted, moment in history, articles by Maulana Karenga and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. offer a detailed history about Black people’s emancipation.