Juneteenth: why it matters
What is Juneteenth?
On June 19, 1865, nearly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved African Americans in Galveston found out they were liberated.
Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and the Union Army troops marched to Galveston to enforce the proclamation and free the last enslaved Black Americans. From that day on, it was observed as a celebration of freedom in many states.
In 1979, Texas became the first state to recognize the holiday after former Gov. Bill Clements signed the holiday into law. Forty-two years later, on June 17th, 2021, President Biden signed Juneteenth National Independence Day into law, establishing it as a federal holiday.
Why is it important?
Juneteenth holds incredible significance for African Americans. According to the Smithsonian Institute, the holiday is considered our country’s second Independence Day.
“Juneteenth is a day of profound weight and power,” Biden said in his 2021 proclamation. “A day we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country – what I’ve long called America’s original sin. A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity. But it is a day that also reminds us of our incredible capacity to heal, hope, and emerge from our darkest moments with purpose and resolve.”
For some students like journalism junior Daisy Sudderth, the holiday is also an opportunity for Black Americans to spend time with one another and reflect on what it truly means to be Black.
“To me, Juneteenth means honoring my Blackness,” Sudderth said. “Juneteenth allows me time to sit and fellowship with people who look like me while being able to remember and honor our ancestors and all of their accomplishments.”
Sudderth hopes that federal recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday will lead to more interest in the lives and history of Black Americans. An open dialogue in regard to Black culture, Sudderth said, will foster more interest in the history behind the holiday.
“I think as time progresses, our education system is becoming more comfortable with talking about Black culture,” Sudderth said. “Which I hope allows Black youth to know and understand the significance of Juneteenth.”
According to Juneteenth.com, early celebrations involved prayer and family gatherings. As the years progressed, it included annual pilgrimages to Galveston by former enslaved people and their families.
In 2021, Galveston dedicated a 5,000-square-foot mural in celebration of the holiday. In 2023, the island will celebrate the holiday with a banquet, scholarship ball and festival.
In 1872, Rev. Jack Yates started a fundraising campaign that made the purchase of Houston’s Emancipation Park possible, which was intended to hold the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration. The park is one of the earliest documented purchases in the name of Juneteenth.
Political science junior Ilana Janniere said that in her neighborhood, the holiday is an opportunity for people from all backgrounds to come together and celebrate their shared ancestry.
“We would have foods from different cultural backgrounds as a buffet style at the community center,” Janniere said. “Black teens came mainly to mingle.”
While the University of Houston will be closed on June 19th in observance of Juneteenth, the University commemorates the federal holiday through campus events and activities.