The Fascinating History and 5 Remarkable Facts You Need to Know of Juneteenth
June is here! And with that comes the summer solstice - Father’s Day - and a well deserved break from school.
It’s also the month of another important day - Juneteenth.
While most people have heard about - and celebrate this holiday - do you really know the history of Juneteenth?
Why is Juneteenth important? And why do they call it Juneteenth?
Let’s take a minute to learn - explore some facts - and answer some questions about this monumental holiday together.
What is Juneteenth and Why is it Important?
Juneteenth - named for the day of the event - June 19th - commemorates African American independence. Also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day - it is the annual celebration of the emancipation of slavery.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas declaring the war had ended and enslaved people were now free.1 This news came two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.2
Why the delay? The Emancipation Proclamation was signed during the Civil War. Confederate states that seceded from the Union - like Texas - did not enforce it.3 There are different theories as to why the news didn’t travel it’s way to Texas in a timely manner.
One theory is that the news was purposely withheld by the enslavers to maintain work on the plantations. And another tells the story of a messenger killed on the way to deliver the news.4
So while Lincoln “legally” proclaimed the end of slavery - freedom for ALL was not truly achieved.
5 Remarkable Facts About Juneteenth
What Was General Order Number 3?
When Major Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Texas, his first order of business was to read General Order Number 3. The historic order stated:
"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."1
The reactions were mixed - some shocked - some rejoiced.
Interesting to note: the order did encourage the freedmen to stay working with their employers. Some left immediately - while others wanted to see how the new employee - employer relationship would work.
However not everyone was happy about this news. There was pushback from White Americans with different forms of violence. And while legally freedom was ordered - Black people still had to enforce it on their own.5
As Dr. Maulana Karenga pointed out it’s not only the news that brought freedom - but the conscious decision of the enslaved to walk away and be free.6
When Was the First Juneteenth Celebration?
The day the news was read did not necessarily mean that immediate freedom happened. Many enslavers delayed sharing the news until after the harvest. Some who tried to leave were met with violence and even death.
While those were hardly conditions to celebrate - it was those obstacles and challenges that came from it that made it reason to honor that day. Thanks to grassroots efforts - June 19th was transformed from a day of ignored military orders to an annual rite and celebration starting a year later in 1866 - Juneteenth.1
What is Emancipation Park?
There was little interest - early on - outside of the African American community to participate in Juneteenth celebrations. In fact, when looking for places to gather for the celebration - resistance was met and use of public parks were barred.4
As a result, African Americans across Texas began donating money to buy properties dedicated to Juneteenth celebrations. One of the earliest locations on record was organized by Rev. Jack Yates.
With the help of his and another local church, they formed the Colored People’s Festival and Emancipation Park Association. They raised $1000 to purchase 10 acres of open land for the Juneteenth celebration.7
This location - residing in Houston - was named Emancipation Park.
How Did the Civil Rights Movement Impact Juneteenth?
In the early 1900’s there were many factors that played a role in the decline of Juneteenth celebrations.4 However - the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s brought back to light a resurgence of this historic occasion.
In 1968, Rev. Ralph Abernathy urged ALL people to come to Washington and join in the Poor People’s March. This March was to bring to light class inequities and show support for poor people.
Ending the March on June 19th - many attendees returned home and started Juneteenth celebrations in places that didn’t previously celebrate. In fact, Milwaukee and Minneapolis now have two of the largest Juneteenth celebrations that sprung from that day.
Is Juneteenth a National Holiday?
On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed a bill into law that now makes Juneteenth a Federal Holiday - the 12th Federal Holiday. Prior to that, Juneteenth was not a national federal holiday, but most states recognized and observed Juneteenth.
In fact - Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth as an official state holiday in 1979. After that, 47 states and the District of Columbia recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday or observance.
In October 2020, New York state designated Juneteenth a public holiday in the state.8 And several organizations were committed to making Juneteenth a national federal holiday.
As we join together in our festivities this year celebrating this significant event - let’s remember the history of how this day came to be. Reflect on the past and honor those who lived through it and fought for their freedom.
While Juneteenth celebrates African American freedom and achievement, it reminds us to come together as one humankind.
Join us on our Humankind versus Racism Project. Be on the lookout for a FREE webinar that will provide classroom resources for creating an Anti-Racist Classroom. And check out our Humankind versus Racism Shirt on our project site https://www.humankindvsracism.com/.
2The Emancipation Proclamation https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation
3 9 Things to Know about the History of Juneteenth https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/9-things-know-about-history-juneteenth-n594546
4 History of Juneteenth https://juneteenth.com/history/
5Here's The One Thing You Need To Know About Juneteenth And The Emancipation Of Black People https://www.essence.com/culture/facts-juneteenth-emancipation-enslaved-black-people/
6 Maintaining the Meaning of Juneteenth: Staying Focused on Freedom https://www.usorganization.org/position/documents/MaintainingtheMeaningofJuneteenth.pdf
7Emancipation Park https://www.houstontx.gov/parks/parksites/emancipationpark.html
8Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Designating Juneteenth as an Official Public Holiday in New York State https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-legislation-designating-juneteenth-official-public-holiday-new-york-state