[Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900], photograph, June 19, 1900; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth124053/: accessed June 16, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.
On Tuesday of this week, the US Senate unanimously voted to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Juneteenth
celebrates June 19, 1865, when, after a two-and-a-half-year delay, word that the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued reached Galveston, Texas. Slavery in the United States was finally, effectively ended. The holiday has long been celebrated in the African American community. In recent years, however, the movement for racial justice has brought the historic day to national attention.
Juneteenth has a long and varied history in the US. Celebrations
in the early 1900s included parades, horse races, rodeos, railroad excursions, formal balls, and fireworks. At countywide celebrations people exercised their political rights by listening to electoral candidates. By the 1920s, as a result of World War I and a wave of state sanctioned violence targeting African Americans, large countywide celebrations decreased and African Americans focused more on celebrating in their homes. In the 1940s, with more than 1 million African American men and women
serving in World War II efforts, Juneteenth celebrations decreased dramatically.
Despite their great sacrifice, African American soldiers still faced discrimination in the military. Their fight to end this discrimination during WWII laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1950s and 1960s, Juneteenth celebrations declined even further as many African Americans focused more on political efforts to end institutionalized racial discrimination, disenfranchisement, and segregation. By the late 1960s and into the 1970s the Black Power movement – which advocated for racial pride, self-sufficiency, and equality – influenced a resurgence of Juneteenth celebrations. Since the 1980s, the holiday has been more widely celebrated and has seen increasing participation.
Juneteenth raises up the struggle of over 4 million enslaved African Americans and their descendants. It also shines a light on the impact structural racism continues to have to this day. The struggle to end police brutality; build economic justice; create safe, well-serviced, affordable communities; and build a more equitable society continues. This celebration of freedom is a time to envision, plan, and take action for a more equitable future.
African Americans have been fighting for freedom for hundreds of years. Juneteenth is a time to celebrate our history, achievements, and sacrifices. We honor our ancestors when we reflect on the struggles they faced. We honor ourselves when we reflect on the struggles we are facing today. We honor future generations when we work to make change so they will not have to struggle in the same way. In the acknowledgement there is healing, hope, and work towards a more equitable future.