Sam Roberts and his family are planning the latest American holiday, Juneteenth, to commemorate the 1865 liberation of black enslaved people at the end of the Civil War.
On Sunday, the Roberts family and others will attend American gatherings and celebrations. It is part of a growing national recognition of a pivotal moment in American history that has been part of the fabric of black culture for generations.
“Juneteen is our Independence Day and the African American community has been celebrating June 19 for a long time,” said Roberts, a father of two from Washington, DC. The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act turned into law last year.
Jesse Holland, an author and black historian, said, “While the 4th of July is a celebration of freedom for the United States, Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom for African Americans after the Civil War.”
The push for a Juneteenth federal holiday comes a year after the popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement and nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. This follows the killing of African-American George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020. Since then, the annual celebration has taken on a whole new meaning for some in the black community.
“Juneth reminds black Americans that we are still facing the challenges of hatred and discrimination that our ancestors endured,” Roberts said. “We have to double down on our search for equality.”
Some historians believe that a greater awareness of the sextant would encourage forward-leaning conversations among Americans about race relations and the legacy of slavery.
A national opinion poll shows that most Americans believe that black people today have been influenced by the history of slavery and that it is the responsibility of the federal government, according to a Gallup Center poll on Black Voices.
Additionally, the survey found that Americans who think the government is responsible should generally benefit from programs to address the effects of slavery to all black Americans, rather than descendants of slaves.
“Not every African American in the United States is a descendant of slaves, but for most of us, Juneteenth is a time for us to take stock of who we are today, where we came from, and the sacrifices our ancestors went through. … before and after the Civil War,” Holland told VOA.
US President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, a proclamation after the end of the Civil War that legally freed more than three million enslaved blacks in the Confederate states. But not all slaves were free because the proclamation could not be enforced in parts of the southern United States.
To enforce the declaration, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger marched on June 19, 1865, to Galveston, Texas, to issue “General Order No. 3,” which ended the slavery of blacks in Texas. The mandate freed an estimated 250,000 slaves two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
“White Texans Knew There Was Civil War” [over] and slavery was banned, but he did not tell his slaves that the war was over for years [in order] To continue to receive free labor from them,” Holland said. “Juneth is when the lie ended and federal forces enforced the new federal law that slavery was illegal in the United States.”
While Juneteenth is celebrated as the end of slavery, the practice of involuntary slavery continued for some time in the states of Delaware and Kentucky. On December 6, 1865, the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States.
The first events date from Juneteenth as far back as 1866, when former slaves celebrated their newfound independence with prayer, feasting, song and dance. The 1950s and ’60s saw the anniversary decline in popularity as black Americans focused on the civil rights movement and ending racial discrimination. Juneteenth saw a revival in the 1980s when Texas became the first state to declare this date a state holiday. Other communities across the United States gradually began to adopt the annual celebration as a public holiday.
Much of the success in voicing support for the national holiday is attributed to African American activist Opal Lee, known as “Juneth’s grandmother”. As a child, Lee witnessed a group of 500 white supremacists ransacking and burning their family home. The life-changing moment led him to a life of teaching and activism.
In 2016, at age 89, she began a walking expedition to Washington, D.C. to press for a Juneteenth federal holiday, traveling hundreds of kilometers from her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. At 95 years old, Lee is happy that Juneteenth is gaining national attention. She will march again on Sunday to celebrate the holiday.
“It’s important that people recognize Juneteenth,” Lee said in an interview with D Magazine last month. “It’s not a black thing, it’s not just a Texas thing, but it’s about freedom for all.”
Today’s Juneteenth celebrations often include a concert, a parade, or a march. Overviews also focus on teachings about African American heritage, political participation, and economic empowerment.
“On the 19th we gather to share stories of cookouts, dance and black experiences,” Roberts told VOA. His family has participated in the Juneteenth festival for decades. “This year we have two-day events on Sunday and Monday, which is a federal holiday,” he said. The holiday has become a summer ritual for Roberts and one of the few holidays they observe.
In Utah, Juneteenth is being designated as a state holiday for the first time since lawmakers approved a bill earlier this year. “As a state, I’m thrilled to see us embrace this holiday,” said Utah state legislator Sandra Hollins. “It means a lot to me. It means my culture matters and it means we get to celebrate a holiday that has been overlooked in this state.” There will be many festivities in the capital, Salt Lake City.
Nearly all 50 US states and the District of Columbia now follow Juneteenth. Historian Holland believes it to be a clear sign of national recognition and acceptance.
“Juneith is American history and everyone should be able to celebrate it, including people of all races, colors and creeds.”