By Joanne Thompson
It was on or near the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd that I first heard the word Juneteenth. As I read more and more about Juneteenth from media sources, I realized that this African American holiday has been celebrated for over 150 years! I was 71 years old, yet I had never heard of Juneteenth in history class or in all my years of living! Because Juneteenth was declared a national holiday on 6/16/2021, it seems pertinent to do some research on it.
Juneteenth (also known as Black Independence Day or Jubilee Day) celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. It was first celebrated in Texas on June 19, 1865. The Emancipation Proclamation was declared in 1863, but Texas was the last state in the Union to maintain institutional slavery. Enslaved people there were not told that they were freed until 2 years after the proclamation was made law. Federal troops arrived in Galveston to take control of the state to ensure that all peoples were freed. Original celebrations included prayer meetings, singing of spirituals and wearing new clothes representing new freedom. Today, celebrations include religious services, speeches, educational events, family gatherings, picnics and festivals.
Historian Jarvis Givens states “these Freedom Day celebrations are always commemorative of the suffering Black people experienced as it pertains to slavery…. But they’re always aspirational, right? Because while they’re celebrating ‘freedom,’ there is a deep awareness that freedom for Black people continues to be incomplete… Juneteenth continues to be important not just because it marks the end of slavery, but because it becomes a ritualized political holiday that tells and retells the story of Black people’s ongoing struggle in a nation that’s so invested in forgetting.”
As a body of Jesus followers, let us join together in celebrating emancipation of peoples of all colors, dedicating ourselves to continually learning more about how racism persists in society and doing our part to dismantle it.
Click here to learn about Juneteenth Joy, a local Juneteenth celebration at the NC Museum of Art.