Today is Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day.
It commemorates the day when slavery officially ended in the US: June 19, 1865. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. But it took two and half years for that news to reach all of the Confederate states. Weeks after Confederate General Robert E Lee surrendered in 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX, with Union soldiers and relayed the news: that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States,” all of Texas’s approximately 250,000 enslaved people were now free.
Unfortunately not. Some plantation owners waited until after the year's harvest to comply. But the date took on a profound meaning for Black communities. In the 1870s, a group of Black residents in Houston raised the money to buy 10 acres of land and create Emancipation Park – a place to formally celebrate Juneteenth. As Black families migrated across the states in the years following the Civil War, many took Juneteenth celebrations with them. But under the Jim Crow era, some Black Americans were barred from accessing public spaces, and Juneteenth celebrations were often confined to the Black community.
In some places. In 1980, Texas became the first to name Juneteenth a state holiday. And currently, all but three states recognize it. (Looking at you Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota.) The holiday is considered a time to reflect and celebrate liberation – marked with things like parades, music, and food. This year, corporate America is getting on board in light of the nationwide protests sparked by George Floyd's death and the fight against systemic racism. Companies like Nike, Mastercard, Twitter, and the NFL are giving employees the day off. But there's also been a push for years to make it a federal holiday – which would close down most government offices, schools, banks, and many businesses for the day.
It's going. In recent years, both the Senate and the House have introduced legislation to recognize the day as "Juneteenth Independence Day." And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working on legislation to make it a federal holiday. One Mississippi-based organization, the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, has been keeping the pressure on Congress to do so. It also started an initiative aimed at incorporating the history of Juneteenth into school curriculums. If you want to take action, you can call your congressional reps. Or sign this petition.
The recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, and Riah Milton have ignited a reckoning around racial injustice in America. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets across the US to demand justice and change. For many, that starts with better acknowledgement of our country's past and federal recognition of this important part of American history.
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