by G. Brown
What is Juneteenth? It’s one of the oldest celebrations commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.
Why aren’t you and most people celebrating Juneteenth? Because a lot of people, especially millennials, don’t know there is such a thing.
Knowledge of the Juneteenth celebration is geographically centered it seems…with more people in the Southwest and West cognizant of it since the celebration has its origin in Texas. According to historians, on June 19th, 1865 the Civil War ended when Union soldiers landed on Galveston and set slaves free. If you know your history, you’ll note this is a full two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but as character Gunn once said on the TV series “Angel”-“…saying people are free, don’t make ’em free.” And a even a declaration from the President didn’t mean people were ready to let go of slavery. Late, but not denied, even the last strongholds of slavery yielded to the changing tide of change on June 19 and the date was shorten to Juneteenth as a celebration. The commemoration started as day of gathering families for prayer and observation through an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston. It evolved into more of a celebration with the addition of rodeos, baseball and other games and activities.
— Okayplayer (@okayplayer) June 19, 2018
Even the food held significance, such as the traditional barbeques which were a tribute to how African ancestors prepared meals of lamb, beef and pork.
In its prime, Juneteenth celebrations sprawled from rural areas to urban churches and parks. Local citizens formed Juneteenth committees and established permanent venues like Emancipation Park in Houston and Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia.
As the 20th Century rolled in, the week long celebrations that once attracted thousands became the target of more progressive thinking. As Blacks turned to text books and classroom for formal educations, the family taught lessons of traditions began to fade. By the time of the Great Depression, few families who had steady work could afford to spend a week away to focus on a celebration. Juneteenth continued to shrink as decades ushered in more opportunities for Blacks many of whom fled rural areas for urban life.
The celebration continued waning until time forced another historical and cultural expanse in the form of the Civil Rights battle. While some continued to view Juneteenth as a sentiment tantamount to an old Negro spiritual wailing about the days of old, others saw it as catapult to mobilize and marshal Blacks through the Civil Rights era. Juneteenth saw a resurgence as Blacks of the 50’s and 60’s celebrated their history, heritage and hope. By 1980, Texas officially made the celebration a state holiday. National museums like the Smithsonian began sponsoring Juneteenth events.
Major cities from Philadelphia to Houston to Atlanta celebrate Juneteenth with parades, festivals, skits, guest speakers and spiritual gatherings.
If you still Juneteenth is nothing more than a sentimental relic of painful days best forgotten, Atlanta’s celebratory motto says it best….”Black History Matters”.