The brutal demise of George Floyd gave many Americans a peep into the Civil War movement which sought to abolish racism in America.
Did you know that when President Trump recently announced a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on the 19th of June (which he has since postponed, by a day), a fresh wave of protests took place?
This is due to a very important occasion which is celebrated on the 19th of June. This day, which is a portmanteau of ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth’ is called Juneteenth Day, Freedom Day or Jubilee Day and represents the day the final shackles of slavery were loosened in America.
The ‘why’ behind Juneteenth day
Abraham Lincoln stated that ‘all slaves were free’ in his Emancipation Proclamation which came into effect on Jan 1st, 1863. But this news took more than 2 years to reach Texas. On June 19th 1865, Major General Gordon Granger along with the Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas and declared the end of slavery.
Theories abound as to why this delay happened. Some claim that the messenger who was to impart the message of freedom was murdered, others speculate that the news was deliberately suppressed by the plantation owners to ensure another year of cotton harvest which could be easily done only with the help of slaves. Whatever be the reason, the enslaved people of Texas were given their freedom on June 19th, 1865.
However, when the General Order for freeing the slaves was enforced, it proclaimed that the relationship between ‘master and slave’ had now become that of ‘employer and hired labour’. But the freed slaves have had enough of their harsh life. They swiftly scattered to the neighbouring states of Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
The celebrations on this day by the African-American population have come to embody this freedom along with the gathering of family members to reaffirm their sense of community. For several years, some former slaves and their families made their annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this day.
The ‘how’ of Juneteenth
The first Juneteenth celebrations started in 1866 in Texas, with The Emancipation Park in Houston and Booker T. Washington Park in Tennessee later becoming prominent sites for the festivities.
Fun activities, education, self-improvement and prayer services formed the range of happenings conducted on this day. Events included fishing, rodeos, barbecues and baseball along with guest speakers and elders who shared their memories. Both young and old individuals also participated in prayer services.
Some special food items which became the norm in these celebrations included strawberry soda-pop and barbecued meat. Everyone contributed by preparing special dishes including rarely available meats such as lamb, beef and pork.
Galveston has remained the epicentre for more than two decades with several planned events including parades, musical performances and beauty contests, drawing large crowds.
Over the years, different communities have evolved their own set of traditions and customs. For instance, Atlanta and Washington also organise large events such as parades and festivals with the help of the locals, businesses and other interested contributors.
Is it a national holiday?
No. But, in 1980, Juneteenth was granted the status of an official state holiday in Texas due to the diligence of an African-American legislator called Al Edwards.
From then on wards, 46 other states including the District of Columbia have moved to grant official recognition to Juneteenth. Recently, New Hampshire declared Juneteenth a state holiday.
Several corporate companies have also declared this day as a holiday for their staff.
Why has Juneteenth 2020 gained prominence?
In the light of the recent events leading to the death of George Floyd, old hurts among the African-American population have resurfaced. The economic instability brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation leading to widespread protests.
Moreover, President Trump’s prior decision to hold a rally on this very day in Tulsa did the job of rubbing salt into a very raw wound. In 1921, Tulsa was the site of brutal racist violence, with white mobs destroying more than 1,200 homes and leaving nearly 300 people dead.
Since the fight against racism has gained immense recognition this year, Juneteenth is being looked upon as the day to reinforce the ideals of liberty and equal rights which was given long ago on paper but, probably not as much in action.
Let June 19th be a harbinger of freedom from all forms of social injustice!
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Unshackling America from slavery – The Juneteenth celebration!
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