by Benita Twillie, IFT Professional Support Staff
Over the last few weeks, many of you have likely learned about this holiday which was first celebrated in Texas to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 to announce the end of the Civil War and that all enslaved people were free. It was two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery in the confederacy.
Some scholars speculate that because there were few Union soldiers to enforce the proclamation, it took considerable time for the proclamation to be enforced in Texas. Others believe that complicit authorities allowed farmers one last season of free labor.
Whatever the reason for the delay, the formerly enslaved men and women of Galveston were jubilant at the news and left the fields that day to celebrate with songs of deliverance and feasting. Formerly enslaved Black Texans gathered again one year later to commemorate the first observance of Emancipation Day. It was a day of prayer and celebration of family. A few years later, The Freedman’s Bureau (made up of formerly enslaved Black men) raised $1,000 to purchase “Emancipation Park" - land where they could gather annually to celebrate Emancipation Day as “Juneteenth” – a combination of the words June and Nineteenth.
After that first Juneteenth, Black Texans migrated to other parts of America. They took their Juneteenth holiday with them, and over time the celebrations have grown. Festivities now include parades, rodeos, street fairs, music festivals, and cookouts. I have fun memories of Juneteenth at family reunions, celebrating our collective successes, surrounded by love, laughter, music, barbeque, and LOTS of red drinks – Kool-Aid, strawberry soda, Hawaiian Punch, and more recently for me, sangria! (I learned later in life that our enslaved ancestors brought their ritual of celebrating with red-hued hibiscus teas with them to the Americas, hence the red drinks that are an unmistakable part of our Juneteenth traditions.)
Now, Illinois is among 47 states that recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. Efforts to make Juneteenth a national holiday have been unsuccessful in the past, but the work continues as interest and knowledge about Juneteenth grows. The president’s ill-fated plan to have a rally on Juneteenth in Tulsa, OK, which was the site of the notorious bombing and massacre of the Black community by White supremacists, has created more awareness among Americans about the importance of Juneteenth for Black Americans.
Now that you know a little more about Juneteenth, I hope that you and your family will celebrate too! From Chicago to Carbondale and communities in between, you can find local Juneteenth celebrations that honor the basic American right – that we are ALL free.