Juneteenth goes by numerous names but one message through Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, or the country's second Independence Day. You see, everyone deserves to be free, and once achieved, freedom deserves a celebration!
Let's time travel to the day when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger led a team of soldiers to Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1985.
The Civil War had just ended. The Union was celebrating victory, and Granger had a significant message to deliver on this auspicious occasion: finally, there was enough workforce to put an end to slavery.
A century and a half later, Juneteenth is celebrated zealously in towns and cities spread across the US. Marking a great achievement in African American history, Juneteenth became one of the most celebrated anniversaries nationwide.
What Does Juneteenth Signify?
First Things First- The Name
As the name signifies, Juneteenth gets the title by combining "June" and "nineteenth", the month and date of the day when the General arrived bearing good news for the slaves: they were finally free.
General Order No. 3
General Order No. 3 announced that slavery would not be tolerated from hereon. The residents were now free to be treated as hired workers if they willed to remain in the plantations.
Employer and hired laborer would be the new relation as slavery was kicked out of the equation.
The order was the final word on the execution of the Emancipation Proclamation terms. Formerly related as master and slave, the people of Texas were finally regarded as absolute equals in rights and rights of property.
Ample Cause To Celebrate
A former slave, Felix Haywood, narrated that everyone went wild on hearing the news.
They all felt like heroes. One fine day, just like that, they were all free, he added.
Why is Juneteenth So Important?
"It's not a Texas thing or a black thing. It's an American thing."
Juneteenth is not just a day; it defines the hardships endured by African American ancestors, year after year.
It is about hopefulness and empowerment of people and not just limited to freedom. It is a day to commemorate the exemplary survival instinct of an entire human race. It is also about how they built something with nothing as a community.
Rightly so, there was a reason to be hopeful. They did get a Juneteenth, eventually.
The perseverance of the activists yearning and campaigning for a change for decades resulted in Juneteenth being approved as a federal holiday by Congress.
Opal Lee, an eighty-nine-year-old activist, walked from Texas to Washington DC in the hope of encouraging lawmakers to declare Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Walking 2.5 miles daily, she represented the 2.5 years, which was the time it took for the enslaved African Americans to be free.
Black Lives Matter Movement
The killing of George Floyd in 2020 caused turmoil. The forty-six-year-old Black man died under the supervision of Minneapolis police while in custody. Thousands of people poured onto the streets with the 'Black Lives Matter' movement.
Strengthening the Juneteenth stance and fueling the Black Lives Matter movement, in addition to George Floyd's name, the names Mr. Arbery, Ms. Taylor, David McAtee were also added to the anti-racism protests.
Several companies across the business spectrum showed solidarity by suspending /firing employees who made racial comments or mocked the tragic death of Mr. Floyd.
What Makes Juneteenth A Real Holiday?
Texas was the first-ever state to announce Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980. Since the symbolic recognition, around 45 states have recognized this significant day as a holiday.
June 2021 marked Juneteenth as the eleventh holiday recognized by the federal government. The bill was passed by the Senate on June 15 and approved by the House the next day.
A day after, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, giving federal employees the day off effective immediately.
"I've only been president for several months, but I think this will go down for me as one of the greatest honors I will have had as president," Mr. Biden said at the signing event.
Juneteenth is the oldest national celebration in the US, marking the day the African American community was freed from slavery. Today, it means more than just freedom. It signifies education and applauds achievement.
It is a day, a week, and in some areas even a month of rejoice and celebration, including family gatherings, picnics, barbeques, parades, and festivals. It is a time for reflection, self-improvement, and assessment entailing future planning.
Irrespective of race, religion, or ethnicity, people join hands to acknowledge and celebrate an era that shaped society and continues to influence, even today.
The immense growth in popularity of Juneteenth, with passing years, shows a great level of maturity and dignity that was long due in the US.