Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19 as Freedom Day (or Emancipation Day), commemorates the declaration of abolishment of slavery in Texas. The day assumes special significance for African Americans across the United States. The celebrations originally started in Texas and gradually spread to other states of the United States. Even some other countries informally observe this day with minor celebrations.
1980 onwards, Juneteenth day has been reckoned as a "partial staffing holiday" in Texas – this implies that the state offices remain open, however, the employees can take a break from work as per the “floating holiday” scheme. Other states like New York, New Jersey, Arkansas, Massachusetts and Alaska have declared the day as an official holiday. California is the latest state to join this list following the announcement made by the California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, on June 19, 2005.
The word ‘Juneteenth’ has its origin in two words ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth’. These two words are significant as it was on June 19 back in 1865 that Major General Gordon Granger made this public announcement about the absolute freedom of slaves in Galveston, Texas.
The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued on September 22, 1862, and was to be implemented on January 1, 1863. The proclamation, however, failed to alter the living condition of slaves, specifically in Texas, which was completely under the influence of Confederate control. As a result, General Gordon Granger, along with his 2,000 federal troops, landed in Galveston. He stood up on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa on June 19, 1865, and re-announced the proclamation.
The proclamation clearly mentioned the freedom of slaves and lay emphasis on complete equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves. This ended the long-standing master-slave relationship and turned it into a healthy employer and free-labor relationship. The freed people were advised to continue with their occupations, but of course, against wages.
The announcement of General Gordon Granger brought the miseries of the slaves to an end and hence all those who were forced to lead a life of utter wretchedness greeted it with great joy.
How Is Juneteenth Celebrated?
The Juneteenth celebrations concentrate on education and self-improvement. Different activities like fishing, barbecuing and baseball are organized. Guest speakers and senior persons are requested to narrate and share their experiences. Prayer services are also held to commemorate this special day.
Speaking of foods, strawberry soda pop has become associated with Juneteenth.
Earlier dressing was also very important for Juneteenth celebration. This can be exemplified from the fact that there were books, which clearly barred people from wearing dresses slaves were made to wear.
The Juneetenth celebration is a celebration of humanity and conveys the message that freedom is the basic fundamental right of one and all.