Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It refers to 19 June, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and read the General Order No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation ending slavery a few years earlier, on January 1st 1863. The reality, however, was that this didn’t reach all states. Slave-owning border states (such as Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia) were not under the reach of the proclamation and thus they carried on as before. Despite the 1863 proclamation, slavery in Texas continued, with some seeing it as something of a “safe haven for slavery”. It wasn’t until the ending of the war in 1865 that federal troops made their way to Galveston, Texas, and enslaved people learned of their freedom.
Of course, this freedom wasn’t instant. Whilst some people were celebrating their new freedom, others had the information purposefully withheld from them by the enslavers until after the harvest season, with their freedom not coming into place until December that year.
The next year, Texas organised an annual celebration to mark June 19th – and thus ‘Juneteenth’ was born. Whilst some states made Juneteenth an official holiday is more recent years, it wasn’t until this year (2021) that the Senate established Juneteenth as a national holiday.
When and where is it celebrated?
Annual Juneteenth celebrations take place across the United States of America, with each State holding a variety of events. For example, New York is holding a summit both online and in-person, Los Angeles is hosting a range of events across spectrums such as wellness, food and art, and festivals and parties are taking place across Texas.
Of course, it’s not always a day just of celebration. 2020, for example, saw protest marches in the wake of police brutality, with some claiming “black people in America are only conditionally free.” Others call for Juneteenth to be a nationwide day of reflection.
What can we do to support this day?
Here in Aotearoa, the history, celebrations and reflections of Juneteenth might feel far away, but there are still ways we can support the Juneteenth kaupapa.
Learning more about slavery in the USA, as well as its impact, is one key way we can support. This reading list is a great way to start, and buying the books means supporting African American authors. Following African American creators online is another important way we can support and learn more about Juneteenth and its impact. Thirdly, donating to organisations such as The Audre Lorde Project, the Bail Project or Black Lives Matter helps organisations to continue on with the important work they are doing to elevate black voices, fight against inequities and support their community. Finally, using the day to reflect on our own history here in Aotearoa, and to check any privilege we may hold, is an important way we can commemorate the occasion.
Will you be celebrating Juneteenth? Tell us what Juneteenth means to you in the comments below!