Juneteenth. A Day of History, Pride, and Cultural Identity

By Damita MIller-Shanklin

Sources: NHPR, Golden West College

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” – Maj. Gen. Granger, Order No. 3

The celebration of June 19th was something I heard about at an early age. Better known as Juneteenth, I did not get the full understanding until I was older. But the feeling I got right away was this was a celebration that had a huge meaning to our cultural identity. It was a family time of sharing the day and enjoying being free. This feeling of freedom was not just said, it was the action that was taken every year to remember.  This celebration was about slavery and the journey of our ancestors being told they are free and how that sentence made Black people everywhere free. Juneteenth has a history and pride that Black people are connected to and understand this one day is historic and formed our culture and how we navigate life.  

Have you ever stopped to think about hearing this proclamation and understanding the word “free?” It’s hard to imagine how they must have felt. Happy, confused, scared, and not sure they heard it correctly. Juneteenth honors the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States.

The name Juneteenth is a blend of two words June and 19th. It’s believed to be the oldest African American holiday, with annual celebrations on June 19 in different parts of the country, dating back to 1866. In addition to recognizing the end of slavery, many take the day to celebrate the African American culture. We all remember the history of President Abraham Lincoln, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. It proclaimed that all persons held as slaves in the rebelling Confederate states are henceforward, shall be free. This came almost three years into the Civil War. However, enslaved people weren’t automatically free by Lincoln’s pen, as it couldn’t be implemented in places still under a conflict of Confederate control. Despite the proclamation, slavery continued in Texas, in the westernmost Confederate states on April 19, 1865. Confederate General R E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S Grant, making the end of the war between the North and the South.  

There are fun facts about Juneteenth you may be interested in. 

  • It is the oldest known holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the US.
  • Juneteenth is the title of a book by author Ralph Ellison. Other books by Carolyn Meyer and Ann Rinaldi also center around the day.
  • Some cities and groups have Miss Juneteenth contests.
  • Strawberry soda pop was once a popular drink associated with celebrating the day.
  • There is a Juneteenth Flag of Freedom. It is half red and half blue with a star in the middle. Each year a Juneteenth Flag raising ceremony is held in Galveston.

So I ask what does Juneteenth mean to you today? Personally, this  holiday is very meaningful and important to me. I feel close to our ancestors and I feel connected to my history, being proud of my blackness and my culture. 

Happy Juneteenth and stay proud of your history and make sure your legacy moves forward. There are people who want to remove our history as if it didn’t happen but we can’t allow that to happen.

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