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This weekend marks the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth, a very historic holiday and important holiday for Black Americans. It represents the beginning of something new for us as it marked the end of traditional slavery for all. The holiday has seen a surge in recognition largely due to companies and states paying attention to Black people in the Black Lives Matter resurgence that occurred last May and June. But what is Juneteenth and why is it so important? We’d have to start at the beginning to get a full understanding.
Protesters marching in Galveston, Texas
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
In the United States, slavery began in 1619 with the first slaves arriving in Jamestown, Virginia with it only got worst as the years went by. While there were many efforts to abolish slavery across the north with many states banning it, it wasn’t until the civil war when a nationwide effort began. On January 1st, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation liberated all enslaved peoples in rebel states and listed them as contraband. Lincoln did this as a war strategy as he knew people would be hesitant to support abolition, but knew if he had the angle of crippling the Confederacy, then the Union would be more supportive of this action. When slaves were listed as contraband, this meant that if an enslaved person either was captured by the Union army or escaped to the Union, they were not meant to be returned back to their master, reversing the Fugitive Slave Act that was passed 13 years ago in 1850. This put pressure on the Confederate war effort as many slaves fled north for freedom and some even began to join the war effort to fight for their own freedom. However, the slaves of border states of Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri and slaves in Union controlled places that previously were Confederate were part of the Union, so their slaves were not liberated as those slaves were not seen as helping the Confederacy win. Near the war’s end, the 13th Amendment that liberated all slaves was passed on January 31, 1865. However it was not ratified and made official until later on that year, so it didn’t completely free all the slaves yet. It wasn’t until the war was over with the Union victory on April 9th that all slaves were considered free. However, Texas still had slavery operating as many enslavers fled to the state viewing it as a safe haven for their peculiar institution as the state was largely unaffected by the war and had very little Union soldier presence. Finally in Galveston, Texas, General Gordon Granger read General Orders No. 3 t which freed all 250,000 slaves in Texas as its order was to inform people of Union victory and enforce the emancipation proclamation as the state is now part of the Union. While it took a while for news to spread across the biggest state at the time, its effects were immediately seen in Galveston on that day of June 19th, hence the name Juneteenth was later born. Eventually, the 13th Amendment was ratified and made official by December 18th of that year, banning the repulsive practice nationwide.
Statue of General Gordon Granger and General Order No. 3
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Today, Juneteenth is celebrated in a number of ways nationwide and even in other countries. It’s a very Black American holiday as it represents a big part of our history and cultural identity. It’s a time for celebration and jubilation as we have been relinquished from the shackles of slavery and we begin to see autonomy, independence and liberation on a brand new scale. There are celebrations nationwide that consist of music festivals, beauty pageants and days of work for some companies. One of the many ways to celebrate is to waive the Juneteenth flag. In 1997, Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, and collaborators Verlene Hines, Azim and Eliot Design and Lisa Jeanne Graf created the Juneteenth Flag to give the holiday more a symbol. It's roughly a split between blue and red with blue taking slightly more space than red as it's curved at the bottom to resemble a horizon. In the middle of the flag there is a white star and white bursting zigzag design surrounding it. The colors represent our American identity as it is shared with the American flag and however the bursting star over the horizon represents a new beginning for Black Americans. The star also represents Texas, the Lone Star state, as it was where the last slaves were freed. On some designs the date June 19th, 1865 is listed to show the date of when liberation occurred. This holiday represents our freedom, but tragically not everyone has that freedom as unfortunately, a loophole of the 13th amendment allows slavery if done under punishment in prisons which an issue we must tackle. So while we celebrate how far we have come, let’s also not forget the work we still have to do. You all have a Jubilant Juneteenth and do not ever forget your history, your excellence and your worth.
Residents of Milwaukee hold the Juneteenth flag before it was hoisted for the first time in the city in 2020
Sources and more information
Torrey “Deuce” Rogers II