Thursday, June 19, 2014

What is Juneteenth?

Originally posted on 6/19/2008.

The discussion about the African American flag created by UNIA and Marcus Garvey reminded me of other dates on the calendar that impact African Americans differently than others in this country. For example, I wonder every year on the birthday of our nation ...why do Blacks celebrate July 4th?

It is historically accurate to recall that nothing about Independence Day back in 1776 brought a smile to the people of African descent living in America. White folks were ecstatic to overturn the yoke of the monarchy ... but, they weren't so ecstatic that they let go of the whips and chains used to enslave African Americans. Just a random thought floating thru the village today.

On the other hand, African Americans in most of the country do take time on Juneteenth to celebrate independence.

What is Juneteenth? Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863.

The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger's regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the slave masters to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All or neither could be true. For whatever the reason, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

Click here to learn more about Juneteenth if you have time/inclination. We encourage you to share more on this aspect of Ourstory as part of the Juneteenth 2008 celebration.

For now, I encourage you to share your comments on the significance of either June 19th or July 4th in your part of the diaspora? What say u?


BlackLiterature said...

As a California born child of two Texans, Juneteenth has always been a part of my experience. As a kid, Juneteenth was a usually a ay off for my folks and some type of BBQ or celebration with local family. If we happened to be in Texas for the summer, Juneteenth was definitly bigger than the 4th because the entire family convened at my grandfather's home.

Now that I'm an adult, I always take Juneteenth as a personal holiday.

Unknown said...

Texas celebrates Juneteenth as a state holiday. It was a holiday that I didn't learn about until later in my life...