Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a holiday of notable significance for many African Americans. June 19, 1865, highlights the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas, marking a historic moment in American history and the culmination of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that was written three years prior. Texas was resistant to the emancipation of slaves, but a military operation led by Union troops caused the end of slavery in the Lone Star state.
Celebrated in more than 40 states as a holiday, the cultural impact of Juneteenth is a resonant reminder of the country’s ugly past regarding the enslavement of Blacks. With the roots of the holiday starting in Texas, the coastal city of Galveston, which served as the theater for the Union’s seizure and possession of the state, still remains the central area where Juneteenth celebrations have continued for decades. Similar celebrations have sprouted throughout the state –and across the country– where celebrants use the day as an opportunity to reflect on the rich history and contribution of African Americans to the fabric of the country.
Author Ralph Ellison later penned much of his second novel, Juneteenth, around the events of the day, and while the book would be released posthumously five years after his death in 1999, a longer and more fleshed-out manuscript was released in 2010, as Three Days Before the Shooting.
Because of the oppressive specter of racism that still permeated much of American society, African Americans were barred from celebrating the holiday, especially around the start of the twentieth century. As the years of the Civil Rights Movement began to form, the celebrations would ramp up again across the nation. In 1994, civil rights and church leaders banded together at the Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans to reignite interest in the Juneteenth movement.
Juneteenth-related organizations fought hard for recognition of the holiday, resulting in a 2011 decision by the District of Columbia and 40 states declaring the day a state holiday. With June also serving as Black Music Month, Juneteenth organizers would stage several jazz and music-related events incorporating the theme of emancipation at the root.
To this day, the “Modern Juneteenth Movement” is working hard to get legislation passed to have the day recognized as a nationally observed holiday.