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The History of Juneteenth

For the past few years, we have been reckoning with our past. Some are willing to confront it, while others try to deny it because facing the past reveals America's original sin. In 2020, the President's Advisory 1776 Commission stated the following: "Many Americans labor under the illusion that slavery was somehow a uniquely American evil. It is essential to insist at the outset that the institution be seen from a much broader perspective. It is hard for people brought up in the comforts of modern America, in a time in which the idea that all human beings have inviolable rights and inherent dignity is almost taken for granted, to imagine the cruelties and enormities that were endemic in earlier times. But the unfortunate fact is that the institution of slavery has been more the rule than the exception throughout human history." Of course, the United States was not the only country that committed this crime against humanity. However, this country initiated the concept of white, and to create a perfect union, we must confront our past.

It is time for all racial and ethnic groups to see themselves represented in America's culture. Up until last year, few individuals had heard of the holiday: Juneteenth (June + nineteenth), our country's second independence day. Of course, many of us enjoy days off; however, it is important to understand the history of the holidays that we celebrate in this country.

Before Bacon's Rebellion, enslaved black people and white indentured servants intermarried and had children with each other. Bacon, Governor William Berkely's cousin by marriage, wanted to expand the territory by removing Native Americans from the land. Berkeley contrastingly feared war and wanted to trade with them. Bacon went against Berkely's orders and established a multiracial alliance. White plantation owners implemented a technique to re-establish order that elevated poor whites and indentured servants' positions in society so they could have rights, such as owning guns and land. In 1705, Virginia's House of Burgess passed Slave Codes to regulate the interactions between Blacks, Whites, and Native Americans.

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Shortly after his election, the Civil War broke out. Lincoln stated that Civil War was more about restoring the union than abolishing slavery. Eleven states chose that they wanted to maintain their southern way of life and elected Jefferson Davis as the president of the Confederate States. " On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation stating," "That on January 1, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom."

On December 31, 1862, Freedom's Eve, African Americans gathered across the country in churches and private homes, awaiting the news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. So when the clock stroke 12, many African American Union soldiers marched onto plantations across the south, spreading the news of freedom in the Confederate States. The Emancipation Proclamation did not grant freedom to all automatically. Similar to the Declaration of Independence, although colonists declared their independence on July 4, 1776, they did not get their independence until they won the Revolutionary War and Benjamin Franklin signed the Treaty of Paris. The loyal states were exempt from the Emancipation Proclamation.

Furthermore, there were some places still under Confederate control. White southern plantation owners defied Lincoln's orders and did not inform their slaves that they were free. It took two years, five months, and eighteen days until the enslaved people from Galveston, a secluded area in Texas, were free. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger marched through Galveston along with 2,000 troops and read General Order No. 3, which freed more than 250,000 people. On January 1, 1866, they celebrated the first Juneteenth in Galveston, Texas, two years after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. They ate food they could not eat under servitude during the initial celebration: barbecue, strawberry pie, and punch made with fresh fruit. In addition, they prayed, cooked out, and sang spirituals.

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official holiday in Texas. In 1997, Ben Haith, the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) founder, designed the original Juneteenth flag. He chose red, white, and blue to honor the American Flag and a bursting white star representing Texas and new beginnings. Almost twenty-five years later, with President Joe Biden and Opal Lee by his side, the grandmother of Juneteenth signed this bill into law. Lee, a teacher, turned activist, was born in 1926 and the granddaughter of indentured servants. In 1939, her family relocated to Fort Worth, Texas, to a predominately white neighborhood. An angry white mob vandalized and burned down her house, coincidentally on June 19, 1939. That is when she decided to make it her lifelong commitment to teaching the "true history" of Juneteenth.

Today, there is still debate on what caused the Civil War; however, many believed it was to maintain slavery in the south. There is much parallelism between what is going on today and what happened in the 1860s. White families have at least ten times of net worth of Black families. Wealth, land, and property are often passed on from one generation to another and contribute to whites' social positionality. Unfortunately, Black people could not acquire this wealth due to oppression and systemic and institutional racism.

Although we have made significant progress over the years, we still have work to do. America is demographically changing, and some are not receptive to the new norm and mourning the past. In 1900 during the Alabama Legislature, Marielou Armstrong of the Daughters of the Confederacy, convened at the Capitol to state the following in her opening address: "You stand before the world the living witness that the past is not dead, but all in it that was good and great and true still lives and has its worshippers…To you, the selfsame welcome of the heart goes out as went that day to Jefferson Davis, the martyr chieftain of our scared cause."

The words echoed then are the same words echoed today. The fear of being replaced and not knowing what the future holds. That is why some embrace the Confederate monuments and flags as symbols and reminders of the past. Passing abortion, voting, and antiracism education laws are ways to maintain power and address the great replacement theory.

Now that you know more about the history of Juneteenth, it is time for you to start celebrating this holiday!

Other Names

● National Freedom Day

● Jun-Jun Day

● Black Independence Day


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