By Shannon Zander
A Brief History of Juneteenth
Juneteenth, a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” is today! Juneteenth
commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free. Although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two and a half years prior, there was no one to ensure that the proclamation was known and upheld in the absence of federal troops.
Manya Whitaker, associate professor of education and interim director of the Butler Center, likened Juneteenth to the Fourth of July: “for many Black descendants of enslaved people, Juneteenth — or Jubilee — is our independence day. Just as July 4th is celebrated in memory of the colonies gaining independence from England, Juneteenth is when the last enslaved people, 2 ½ years after slavery was supposed to have ended, were finally set free in Texas.”
Whitaker noted that the marginalization and oppression of Black individuals certainly did not cease on June 19, 1865, as many of the previous enslaved individuals “had no choice but to remain on the plantation where they’d lived their entire lives and continue working as they’d always worked as ‘paid’ labor, never earning enough to be able to leave.”
“Nevertheless, this day is historic and is celebrated in Black communities nationwide as a moment to remind ourselves that we’ve overcome the unimaginable and we will continue to fight for our humanity.”
Why Awareness of Juneteenth Has Been On the Rise:
Awareness of Juneteenth is on the rise in the United States. In June 2018, the number of Google searches for the term “Juneteenth” nearly tripled. Currently, the interest in Juneteenth is the highest Google Trends has ever recorded.
Whitaker attributes the increased interest in Juneteenth to two reasons: “the Black community is re-grounding itself in its roots” and “we are telling our history beyond the borders of our own homes.” She notes that oral tradition has been a core way that Black individuals have passed stories and history down through generations, “but in recent years with the support of social media and technology we have many more options for documenting our stories and Juneteenth is one story that clearly needs to be told. That people are googling it tells me that at least some people want to listen.”
Here’s how you can commemorate Juneteenth
While many in-person, local events to celebrate Juneteenth have been canceled, you can still participate from anywhere in the world through these virtual events:
- Juneteenth Music Festival: The World’s First Virtual Global Freedom Festival
- Juneteenth 2020 Celebration by the African American Museum of Iowa
- Juneteenth Community Day Celebration by the Amistad Center for Arts and Culture in Connecticut
- Juneteenth 2020: Stay Black and Live by the Carver Museum and Cultural Center in Texas
- Juneteenth Shop Black Virtual Experience
View more events and read more about the history of Juneteenth here.