Exploring the history behind Juneteenth
The Emancipation Proclamation (Proclamation 95), was an executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862, effective Jan. 1, 1863. It freed 3.5 million slaves of the Confederate states in rebellion against the Union. While its effect was to free negros held in bondage it had more far-reaching effects making the eradication of slavery an explicit war goal and the ending of Fugitive Slave Laws. While President Abraham Lincoln had officially freed the slaves, enforcement of this order became difficult to enforce in areas where there were few Union soldiers. Texas, in particular, remained unaffected, as it was geographically isolated from Union troops and thus was the last confederate state to have the proclamation announced. Many slave owners moved to Texas with their slaves looking to not be affected by the enforcement of the proclamation. By the end of the Civil War on April 9, 1865, the number of slaves in Texas had increased by tens of thousands, despite the proclamation.
News of the freeing of the slaves traveled slowly in the South. The Union Army was used to bring this news throughout the South and spread the word. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger from the Headquarters District of Texas in Galveston, with more than 2,000 Union troops, traveled to every county in Texas informing the people that all slaves were free. In an article from Smithsonian Magazine, dated June 15, 2011, they said, "Juneteenth marks what is arguably the most significant event in American history after independence itself — the eradication of American slavery." Below is the content of General Orders 3 that General Granger issued that was read and posted in prominent areas throughout Texas:
"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
The Juneteenth celebration was started a year later in Texas to celebrate the importance of June 19 with the announcement that slavery had been abolished. It was from this celebration that Juneteenth ("June" combined with "nineteenth") was born. For many years it was confined to Texas, as word of the holiday was slow to spread to other states. It wasn't until the 20th century that Juneteenth began to make its journey across the United States.
Today Juneteenth is celebrated in 47 of the 50 states (Oregon is one of the 47). It includes the sharing of slave food delicacies (including the barbecue pit) and certain foods that became popular and synonymous with Juneteenth celebrations such as strawberry soda-pop. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing", and reading of works by noted African-American writers such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. It is often accompanied by lectures and exhibitions on African-American culture. Celebrations include picnics, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, blues festivals and Miss Juneteenth contests.
I grew up celebrating Juneteenth. It was a day for family and friends to get together and enjoy each other's company. The significance of Juneteenth was not fully realized by me until the civil rights era. I became more focused on my roots. Attending a Juneteenth Celebration was an important event I did not want to miss.
Everyone in my immediate family celebrates Juneteenth as well as most of my African American friends. This year it will be quite different since it will be difficult to gather in large groups. I've discussed this with my wife how we might celebrate Juneteenth this year. We are exploring several alternatives and have come up with the following:
— Host a gathering of no more than 10 people, celebrating in our home.
— Use my social media accounts and other platforms (LinkedIn) to create positive posts about Juneteenth. Post something every day starting on June 15 up through June 19.
— Host a virtual Juneteenth celebration with friends and family. Exchange recipes, discuss/remind each other of our ancestor's triumphs, and create new plans for the second half of the Year.
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