What is Juneteenth, and how did we come to celebrate it across the nation? Juneteenth has been celebrated for decades by members of the Black community and their family members and friends. But do you know what Juneteenth stands for?
Juneteenth celebrates the date of the abolition of the slave trade in the Southern states, notably Texas, where the holiday was first observed. This date occurs on the anniversary of General Order No. 3, issued by Major General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865. The story of slavery throughout the history of the Americas, however, often goes untold: the Spanish instituted the organization of racial-based slavery when they arrived at St. Augustine, Florida, as early as 1565; the Dutch brought slaves to New York; the French, too, in the colonies of the Great Lakes region and their settlement in Louisiana; and later, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes enslaved African American people; amongst others. Yet, just as this history has gone untold, so has the recognition of Juneteenth: it was not until 2021 that Juneteenth became a federally recognized holiday in the U.S.
General Order No. 3 was issued two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Proclamation 95 was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, during the Civil War. Emancipation Day is celebrated in Washington, D.C., every year in mid-April. Emancipation Day celebrations occur throughout the United States and worldwide, including here in New York on the Fifth of July. The Fifth of July is a celebration of emancipation in New York, which marks the date of the last slaves to be freed on July 4th, 1827, a full 28 years after the state passed a law of “gradual abolition” in 1799. Governor Daniel D. Tompkins designated the Fourth of July the date that abolition would take effect. To differentiate between the Fourth of July celebrations of the nation and the abolition of slavery, African Americans and Black persons celebrate on the Fifth of July.
Today, Juneteenth has been embraced as a day of universal celebration of the emancipation of enslaved people and the abolition of slavery and the slave trade across the United States. This federal holiday marks progress in recognizing the history of slavery in the nation as we, today, take a moment to acknowledge the lived experiences of African Americans and Black lives in the country’s history, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
If this is the first time you’ll be acknowledging Juneteenth, think about educating yourself about the many great Black lives in history, and take time to recognize the living artists, authors, creators, educators, and community-builders in your area. To commemorate and celebrate this day, think of the Black-owned businesses or Black-led non-profits in your area that could use your support. And finally, use your voice to advocate for yourself or others and speak up against racism and prejudice.
*Source: Gordon-Reed, Annette. On Juneteenth, 2021.