What is Juneteenth and why is it a holiday?

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(ThyBlackMan.com) The story of America has always been one of struggle, resilience, and rebirth. As a vast tapestry woven with different threads of history, culture, and people, one of the most critical threads is the African-American story. In the complex narrative of American history, one date stands out: June 19th, often referred to as ‘Juneteenth’. The holiday is a momentous one, marking a significant turning point in America’s journey towards equality and freedom.

The Origins

To fully appreciate the significance of Juneteenth, we must venture back to the tumultuous era of the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into effect on January 1, 1863, declaring that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” However, the Confederate states, entangled in the bloody war, did not heed Lincoln’s proclamation immediately.

The end of the Civil War in April 1865 was the dawn of a new chapter, but complete emancipation was yet to be realized. In Texas, due to its geographical isolation and minimal Union presence, news of the Proclamation’s enforcement had not fully spread, and slavery tragically persisted.

June 19, 1865, marked a pivotal turning point when Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. He announced General Order No. 3, which declared that all slaves were free, bringing the Emancipation Proclamation to life in the last region where slavery endured. This day has since been remembered and celebrated as ‘Juneteenth,’ a portmanteau of ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth.’

What is Juneteenth and why is it a holiday - 2023

Significance and Impact

In essence, Juneteenth symbolizes the end of slavery in the United States. It is a day of jubilation, celebrating African-American freedom and emphasizing education and achievement. Despite the 13th Amendment officially abolishing slavery, racial segregation laws, commonly known as ‘Jim Crow Laws,’ ensued. Juneteenth thus represents not only the end of a dark chapter but also the ongoing struggle for equality and civil rights.

Juneteenth provides an opportunity to reflect on the ancestors who endured unimaginable hardship and to commemorate their strength, courage, and perseverance. It’s a celebration of the progress made and a sober reminder of the journey still ahead.

In many ways, Juneteenth embodies the spirit of a people who, despite facing tremendous adversity, persisted, fought, and survived. It is a symbol of hope, resilience, and the unending quest for freedom and equality. Juneteenth is the annual recommitment to these ideals, the inspiration to continue the struggle for genuine equality.

The Celebration

Juneteenth, often referred to as ‘Freedom Day’ or ‘Emancipation Day’, is traditionally celebrated with a mix of reflection, rejoicing, and education. It’s a day of family gatherings, community festivals, parades, barbecues, and picnics. This day also often includes public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and performances from African-American writers and artists.

Recognizing the day’s educational significance, some communities organize symposiums or stage plays to highlight the African-American experience. Many celebrations often involve a focus on self-improvement and planning for the future, keeping the memory of the past alive while forging a path forward.

Juneteenth as a National Holiday

For many years, Juneteenth was a cultural holiday, celebrated by the African-American community but not widely recognized outside of it. However, the push for Juneteenth to be acknowledged as a national holiday gained momentum in recent years.

The killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and the subsequent global protests against systemic racism led to a renewed focus on Juneteenth. The date was thrust into the national consciousness, prompting widespread calls for it to be recognized as a federal holiday.

Finally, in 2021, Juneteenth was officially recognized as a national holiday, known as Juneteenth National Independence Day. This marked a significant moment in American history, acknowledging the struggles and contributions of African Americans at a national level.

The Future of Juneteenth

Recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday is an important step forward, but the holiday’s true essence is the quest for genuine equality. This day is not just about looking back but also about acknowledging the current state of racial equality and understanding the path forward. The past informs the present, and the lessons of Juneteenth are crucial for the progress of a nation.

Juneteenth is a poignant reminder of the hardships endured, the battles fought, and the freedom won. It’s also a clarion call, reminding us that while we’ve come a long way, the journey towards true equality continues. As we celebrate Juneteenth, we honor the past and pave the way for a future where freedom and equality are more than mere ideals; they are realities for all.

In celebrating Juneteenth, we celebrate the journey of a people from enslavement to emancipation, from segregation to Civil Rights, and from racial disparity to equality. It is a celebration of the triumph of the human spirit and the ongoing quest for justice and equality in America. Juneteenth embodies the enduring spirit of resilience, reminding us that even in the face of adversity, hope persists, and progress is always possible.

Staff Writer; Corey Shaw

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