After years of inaction on the part of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, this week President Joe Biden signed a law that makes Juneteenth – June 19th – a federal holiday. Already, forty-nine of the fifty states recognize Juneteenth as at least a ceremonial holiday, and just this year several states added it as an official state holiday. With the recent momentum toward official recognition, many people are just hearing about Juneteenth and wondering what it is all about.
Some people describe Juneteenth as America’s second Independence Day. It recognizes and celebrates June 19, 1865, the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and took control of the state to end slavery there. It came two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which called for the end of slavery. In reality, it took much longer to free enslaved people, as many of the enslavers were reluctant to comply.
As federal troops marched across the south, some enslavers moved further west. Texas only had a few thousand enslaved people at the time of the Civil War, but the numbers swelled to 250,000 by June 19, 1865. When Major Gen. Gordon Granger made his announcement that day, Texas became the last of the Confederate states to abolish slavery. However, two Union border states, Kentucky and Delaware, still practiced slavery another few months until the Thirteenth Amendment passed later that year.
The following year, on June 19, 1866, freed peoples in Texas began celebrating Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day. There were picnics, music, prayer and celebrations that continued every summer in Texas, and in 1980, the state made the holiday official. Juneteenth celebrations spread across the country as Texans moved to other states and brought their traditions with them.
In 1997, Ben Haith of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation created the Juneteenth flag. The flag is awash with symbolism: the star in the middle represents the Lone Star State of Texas; the arc symbolizes a new horizon of opportunity for Black people; the outline depicts a new beginning; and the colors express freedom for all Americans.
In addition to barbeques and gatherings of families and friends, Juneteenth is a time for reflection and conversation. The momentum around acknowledging it as an official holiday is a nice start, but there is still so much to do in this country to stem the tide of racial injustice and inequality. The holiday is a good day to have these discussions, for people of all races.
It’s also a good time to support Black-owned businesses. This week, TheWMarketplace hosted six Black women-owned businesses in our LIVE Series. In addition to showcasing their fabulous products, and in the spirit of Juneteenth, we asked what their dreams were for the future. All six women emphasized love, owning your success, and shared ideals.
Lanee Bradshaw of Lanee's Resin Alchemy believes that "Love and fear do not exist in the same space at the same time. We need to choose love over fear and celebrate people's differences and cultures." Akilah Jackson of SunSum Intentional Living wants a world where “everyone can live and stand in their own truth and identity.” And Oumuwa’s Mamesho Macaulay said, “Be successful because you’re a woman, because you’re Black.” Erika Dalya Massaquoi, CEO of The Oula Company concluded, "My project is to level the playing field and reframe the narrative around what blackness is. That is political and socially active in and of itself.
As the rest of the country learns more about the origins of Juneteenth and celebrates with their own barbecues, it’s a good time to come to terms with what more we can do to fulfill the promise of emancipation to create a free and just society for all people – one where everyone can be safe, successful and dream big. Despite the progress that a Juneteenth holiday represents, and even after 156 years, we still have a long way to go.