Growing up, I can remember celebrating Juneteenth every year. In my hometown of Buffalo, NY there is a huge parade that takes place and a huge festival afterwards in Martin Luther King Jr Park where black vendors sell their goods and promote their businesses in the heart of the inner city. Every year, my grandmother would take me to the parade and I would always get so excited watching all my friends take part. There was all types of entertainment. So many different groups and organizations marching down Genesee Street while huge crowds of people stand by watching and cheering them on. The drill teams were out there stepping up the street with their glittery outfits and boots with the huge pompoms on them. There were African drummers, bands, floats that carried political officials, pastors, local music artists and so much more. My dad even took part in the parade. He rides motorcycles and the local bike clubs as well as the people with the old fashion car collections would either lead the parade or be the closers. I would go to see my dad ride by on his motorcycle and do burnouts and smoke the tires with the other bikers. Juneteenth was such a huge deal in my city. In fact, we have the 3rd largest Juneteenth celebration in the country, which I was very surprised to find out. Juneteenth was one of the highlights of the summer for me and it was an awesome experience to finally be in the parade in 2019 when I got to ride my bike in the parade with an organization that I'm apart of. For so many years, I watched this parade, participated in some of the activities afterwards but I realized that I didn't really know why why we were celebrating. I knew it had something to do with Black people but there had to be a better explanation than that, so I decided that I was going to do some research and find out why we make so much a big deal about the 'teen" weekend in June.
We all know that slavery took place in the United States for hundreds of years. Black people were taken captive from Africa and brought to America and were slaves to White people doing everything from tending to the crops in the field, tending to the house cleaning and even raising the children of their owners. You learn that in grade school. You also learn that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which abolished slavery and after that, we graze over to the Civil Rights era and then Barack Obama becoming the first Black president. When it comes to Black history, that's about all you learn in school which would explain why my knowledge of Juneteenth was nonexistent. So much happened in those gap years that I learned from my own research.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." but that declaration only applied to states that were under Union control, not the south where they were under confederate control. Although this was signed in 1863 it wasn't until 1865 that enslaved people in the south learned of their freedom. On June 19th 1865, nearly 2 1/2 years after the proclamation was signed, Major General Gordon Granger, a Union General rode into Galveston, TX to announce that the Civil War had ended and the slaves were now free men. At this point more than 250,000 enslaved Americans were really free. The following year, the freedmen in Texas decided to celebrate their freedom on June 19th 1866 with the 1st "Jubilee Day". It was an organized event featuring food and celebration and became a long standing tradition.
So for the African American people, Juneteenth is the day that we celebrate the freedom of our ancestors. In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday but Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota are the only remaining states that do not recognize the day. On June 17th 2021, President Joe Biden signed a law making Juneteenth the 11th holiday to be recognized by the federal government. Juneteenth is the longest running African American holiday. Some people may refer to it as "Freedom Day", "Liberation Day" or in Texas it's referred to as Emancipation Day. It is also the first holiday to be added to the calendar since Martin Luther King Jr Day was added back in 1983.
After finding all of this out, I now understood why Juneteenth is so important. For African American people, Juneteenth is the day we celebrate the liberation of our ancestors. It is also a reminder of how far we have come as a people and how far we still have to go. To this day, 156 years after slaves were freed, Black people are still fighting for basic human rights. Yes we are happy to have our liberation celebrated and recognized on a federal level but we want to see changes in our laws and policies that protect that liberation. Today we are still fighting and pushing to be treated equally, for anti-lynching bills that will protect black and brown people from being killed in the streets, basic voting rights, diversity in education and so much more. While we continue to celebrate Juneteenth,
it is also important to take pride in educating ourselves, increasing our knowledge and continuing to fight for our rights as a people.