Juneteenth is a celebration of the day enslaved peoples were told they could go free. On September 22, 1963, Abraham Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation, announcing that all persons held as slaves should be freed. However, it took two years for the final few enslaved people in Texas to be told of their release two years prior. Black Americans thus marked this date “Juneteenth” to celebrate the telling of their freedom.
Of course, Black Americans were not truly free, and there were vast exceptions to their freedom. For example, there was sharecropping, poll taxes, redlining, and various other methods– including mass incarceration– that authorities used to keep Black people enslaved. Even so, June 19th is still celebrated as the day that Black captives were finally “freed.”
Black Americans Celebrating Freedom
Common ways to celebrate Juneteenth, in Arkansas and across the country, include family get-togethers, festivals, fireworks, and more. Many Black Americans celebrate Juneteenth in the same ways others celebrate the Fourth of July. However, most employers do not offer the same benefits for Juneteenth as for Independence Day.
Many view the Fourth of July as the day that everyone was freed from our oppressors. Yet only White Americans were declared independent from Britain on July 4th, 1776. Nonetheless, many Americans celebrate American freedom on the fourth without acknowledging Black Americans were freed 32,485 days later.
A Day of Remembrance, now Federal Holiday
In 2007, Congress recognized Juneteenth as a day of remembrance, but only recently declared the date a federal holiday. Arkansas itself stands amongst the 47 states to have recognized Juneteenth as a day of celebration. Although only Fayetteville has decided to make the date a paid holiday. Along the same lines, Juneteenth is now a paid holiday in Washington state, Texas, Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania.
With the unanimous passing of a bill marking Juneteenth a federal holiday, hopefully this part of history will now be brought to light. Juneteenth is a crucial part of American history that should be taught in schools, just as Independence Day is.
This June 19th, celebrate the freeing of slaves by going to local events, buying from Black vendors, or looking up the history of Juneteenth to be better educated.