Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. In January of 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to effectively free the enslaved African people. As you can imagine this news was unwelcome and devastating to the Southern economy and intentionally travelled very slowly. Fast forward to June 19th, 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas and finally brought freedom to the remaining enslaved people there. This date become celebrated as “Juneteenth”, and is commemorated in Black communities across the country today.
While Juneteenth is a special and celebratory day, we have to also recognize the darkness of that time. Freedom was delayed for over 2 years for many enslaved people. We use the word “enslaved” intentionally. They were people horrendously enslaved, not just property and commoditized “slaves”. But also, the years following the Emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth were difficult and dark still. Formerly enslaved people were given freedom, yes, but no property, no money, and no skills to make life livable. Remember it was illegal for enslaved people to read during that time, so many had to return to their former owners and the only lives they knew and we saw the rise of sharecropping take over the South.
This year, the annual celebration of freedom comes as the country copes with its long-standing history of systemic racism. Today, Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement, for planning the future, and a day of service. Looking for ways to honor an celebrate this day, here are some options to consider.