The U.S. is approaching the first anniversary of the newest federal holiday: Juneteenth National Independence Day. Juneteenth, designated as June 19th, commemorates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the freeing of 250,000 Black people in the city who had been held in slavery. It took 2½ years from the date President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation for the news to reach the state. Although emancipation didn’t happen for all overnight, celebrations broke out among newly freed Black people and Juneteenth was born.
In 1866, freed men in Texas organized the first of what was to become the annual tradition of “Jubilee Day” on June 19. Over time, celebrations grew to include music, prayer services, barbecues, dancing, and other activities. The traditions spread over time as the Black population in Texas migrated to other states and the observance became commonly known as Juneteenth.
According to Juneteenth.com, current celebrations acknowledge Black freedom and achievement, while encouraging ongoing self-development and knowledge of and respect for all cultures. However, the events of 1865 will always provide the basis and foundation for the holiday.
How does one acknowledge and celebrate Juneteenth in modern times? Lori L. Tharps, who describes herself as a writer, author, and mother of three incredible humans, is also the author of a wonderful blog. She is an Black woman living as an expatriate with her husband in Spain and writes about finding Black culture in a multicultural world. This is her take on how Juneteenth can be celebrated and by whom:
“At the end of the day, there really is no wrong way to celebrate Juneteenth as long as you are respectfully honoring the struggle and resilience of African-American people. The fact that you honor the day at all is the important part. By acknowledging Juneteenth, you are acknowledging the importance of freedom after enslavement. You are acknowledging the dignity and significance of liberty and independence for all people. You are celebrating the real day when all Americans became free. Just remember that Juneteenth celebrations could and probably should look different depending on the race/ethnic background of the celebrants. But that’s okay.”
On Juneteenth, let’s take time to reflect on these historical events and how they have shaped our history. Red food and drink are traditionally part of the celebration, so make a toast with your favorite red beverage, to honor the emancipation of the Black slaves 157 years ago.