Why Celebrate Juneteenth?
By Brian Delk
Brian Delk is a junior at Rutgers where he is a news editor for his school paper, The Daily Targum, and studies journalism and economics. In his free time, he enjoys cooking foreign dishes, finding new music and mountain biking.
“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?” – Frederick Douglass
Black people constructed the foundation of the United States, doing so within shifting systems of bondage and forced labor. Their emancipation brought about enormous changes for their families and future immigrants. But due to lags in information and a lack of Union troops in confederate states, not all enslaved people knew they were free following Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This discrepancy ultimately resulted in Juneteenth, now a federal holiday celebrated on June 19.
The holiday recognizes the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, originating on June 19, 1865, when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas, more than two weeks after the surrender of Confederate General-In-Chief Robert E. Lee, and more than two years after the original Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, declaring all enslaved people in Confederate territory free.
When the Emancipation Proclamation was first issued, enforcing the bill in some regions of the country was challenging due to the ongoing Civil War. But after Lee’s surrender, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865 to enforce General Order No. 3, which announced the emancipation and instructed former slaveholders to respect the freedom of their former enslaved people. Juneteenth celebrations emerged as African Americans marked this significant event. Over time, Juneteenth spread beyond Texas and became an important holiday in other states.
Juneteenth is important to recognize today because African-Americans still face discrimination throughout the United States and are regularly oppressed because of their racial identity. Conversations about race are necessary, and Juneteenth offers community members and legislators the chance to ask questions and make changes to today’s emerging society. Early celebrations faced resistance from white authorities and were often suppressed. However, Juneteenth persisted as a symbol of African American freedom and resilience. During the Reconstruction era, Juneteenth became a platform for political organizing, voter registration drives, and discussions on civil rights. But as the Jim Crow era began, celebrations declined and African Americans continued to face animosity and racial segregation.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Juneteenth experienced a resurgence as African American communities sought to preserve their history and honor their ancestors’ struggles. The Civil Rights Movement further elevated Juneteenth’s significance, aligning it with the fight for racial equality.
In recent years, efforts to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday gained momentum. On June 17, 2021, Congress passed legislation establishing Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday, signed into law by President Joseph R. Biden. Today, Juneteenth is widely celebrated across the United States. It serves as a reminder of the long struggle for freedom and justice and an occasion to honor African American history and achievements.
Juneteenth promotes cultural heritage and fosters ongoing efforts toward racial equality by engaging with our history. Social justice is constantly in conversation today, and it is essential for people to recognize that racist attitudes and bigotry against African-Americans have not disappeared. As long as racism and discrimination persist, and until society reaches racial solidarity, all people must continue to work toward a better future.
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