What Is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth Flag

Like many others, this year will be the first year that my work will close its doors in observance of Juneteenth.

What is Juneteenth?

The question can be answered in multiple ways, but this document timelines and compiles some of the historical events and people that led to its existence. Looking at Juneteenth through this lens will hopefully help us craft ways in which we can celebrate the holiday in a meaningful way.

April 12, 1861:
The U.S. Civil War begins. President Lincoln’s vision was to reunite the nation. He was willing to abolish slavery if that would be a means to reach that goal.

July 1862:
Congress passed the Militia Act. This Act allowed Black men to serve in the U.S. armed forces as laborers. Congress also passed the Confiscation Act. This Act mandated that enslaved people seized from Confederate supporters would be declared forever free. President Lincoln begins working on the Emancipation Proclamation.

September 17, 1862:
Union troops halted the advance of Confederate troops in the Battle of Antietam.

September 22, 1862:
President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. All Confederate states were directed to rejoin the Union within 100 days — by January 1, 1863—or their slaves would be declared “thenceforward, and forever free.”

January 1, 1863:
The Emancipation Proclamation is issued and proclaims, “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Note the freeing of enslaved people was only in states that had seceded from the United States. Slavery was untouched in the loyal border states: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and West Virginia. The Proclamation Emancipation also excluded Confederate States that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union (United States) winning the Civil War. The power of the Proclamation is that it elevated the freeing of enslaved people as a goal of the Civil War.

January 1865:
Both houses of Congress had passed the Thirteenth Amendment.

February 1865:
Lincoln states, “It [The Proclamation Emancipation] is my greatest and most enduring contribution to the history of the war.”

April 9, 1865:
General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

April 14, 1865:
President Lincoln is assassinated.

June 19, 1865:
Union General Granger and federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people are freed. Approximately 250,000 enslaved people were freed. There was a celebration of freedom.

December 1865:
The Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in December. This amendment ended slavery in Delaware and Kentucky.

June 1866:
Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day is celebrated in various states.

In 1996, the first federal legislation to recognize “Juneteenth Independence Day” was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.J. Res. 195, sponsored by Barbara-Rose Collins (D-MI). In 1997, Congress recognized the day through Senate Joint Resolution 11 and House Joint Resolution 56. In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 175, acknowledging Lula Briggs Galloway (late president of the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage), who “successfully worked to bring national recognition to Juneteenth Independence Day,” and the continued leadership of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.

1997: Ben Haith created the first Juneteenth Flag. Mr. Haith was the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation. The flag has been refined by artist Lisa Jeanne Graf.

2016: In September 2016, Opal Lee, ‘the grandmother of Juneteenth,” embarks upon a symbolic walk from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington D.C. to advocate for a federal holiday. Lee was 12-years-old when on June 19, 1939, five hundred white rioters vandalized and burned down her family home. She was 94-years-old when Juneteenth became a federally recognized holiday.

Jubilee by 2BZen

June 17, 2021:
Juneteenth became a federal holiday on June 17, 2021. It was the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was adopted in 1983.

So, what is Juneteenth? Historian Mitch Kachun considers that celebrations of the end of slavery have three goals: “to celebrate, to educate, and to agitate.”

For me, on Juneteenth I will celebrate the end of slavery and educate and work to ensure freedom, independence, and liberty includes us all.

Reflection Questions:
What Is Juneteenth?
What did you learn about Juneteenth in school and from parents and other family?
Who were the Juneteenth pioneers in your community?
What does Juneteenth mean to you?
How will you celebrate and observe Juneteenth?

Timeline data: Wikipedia.com

Published by Coach2Zen

Leader. Facilitator. Inspiring minds and building a leadership community by sharing skills and talents with Zen, the presence of balance, equanimity.

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