What Does Juneteenth Mean?
Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. While it wasn't necessarily the official end of slavery, June 19th was one of the most momentous, easy-to-reference dates involved in the series of events that allowed people of color to be free throughout the United States instead of just in localized areas. It is an important date to observe, especially as inequalities still persist.
What’s The History of Juneteenth?
On June 19th, 1865, Texas Major General Gordon Granger announced that: "in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free". While slaves had technically been freed years before after the Emancipation Proclamation, many areas persisted with the use of slavery, either outright dismissing the proclamation or simply forgetting to inform people they were now free. As a result, the announcement on June 19th had a huge impact on the 250,000 people still enslaved in Texas at that time.
Starting in 1866, Juneteenth - a contraction of “June Nineteenth”- was Texas's celebration of freedom. Former slaves used this day to gather, to rejoice, and to plan ways to overcome or eradicate continued inequalities and injustices, especially as the Jim Crow laws came into effect. Eventually, the celebrations and recognition spread beyond Texas. Juneteenth gained significantly more traction over a hundred years later after the Poor People's March, initially planned by the late Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., ended on June 19th, 1968, in honor of the holiday.
Since then, Juneteenth has evolved along with the United States. Now, many see it as the true Independence Day for the United States, when every person was finally free, regardless of their race. In 2020, with the national racial tensions at a televised high after the George Floyd killing, the notion of Juneteenth was shared widely in media throughout the United States rather than just in small pockets of the country.
Is Juneteenth a National Holiday?
Juneteenth is not yet a national holiday, but there are people working toward getting it recognized as a federal holiday. Juneteenth is currently recognized in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday and still has the highest number of people who celebrate the day. The three states that don't yet recognize Juneteenth are South Dakota, North Dakota, and Hawaii.
What are Juneteenth Colors?
The colors that represent Juneteenth are the same ones found in the U.S. flag: red, white, and blue. This reflects the fact that Juneteenth is when a significant portion of Americans was finally recognized as free citizens.
The colors usually worn that day are red, black and green which are the Pan-African colors: the red is for the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry, and shed for liberation, the black is for black people whose existence as a nation, though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existence of the flag, the green is for the abundant natural wealth of Africa.
Does Juneteenth Have a Flag?
Juneteenth has, in fact its own flag! The flag designed by Ben Haith represents not just the holiday, but the end of slavery in the United States. It uses the colors red, white, and blue, just like the American flag, representing the fact that the enslaved people were and still are Americans. The white star in the center of the flag represents the freedom of Black people through the United States, and it also reflects the Texas state flag. The burst around the star is to represent a new beginning as freedom and a new life spread through the country. The arc formed by the red and blue color blocks represents a new horizon with new opportunities for people who were previously enslaved, as well as their descendants.
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How is Juneteenth celebrated?
Modern celebrations of Juneteenth often reflect the holiday's Texas roots. Common activities include picnics, barbecues, and baseball games, all very Texan and American pastimes. Juneteenth also continues the theme of gatherings, cookouts and potlucks are very common, especially in conjunction with barbecues. The best way to celebrate Juneteenth is to buy from Black-owned businesses.