What is Juneteenth, the day Trump claimed he made famous and why is it relevant today more than ever?
Senator Kamala Harris said she would be introducing a bill that would declare Juneteenth as a national holiday
President Donald Trump made some tall claims about making 'Juneteenth' famous. In an interview, he claimed that "nobody had ever heard of" the holiday before he brought it up. He said, "I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous. It's actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it." While we agree with the President that it is an important event and important time, we will have to strongly disagree with him about nobody having any knowledge of the unofficial state holiday across the country and the official state holiday of Texas.
Now that Juneteenth is on everybody's lips, what is it exactly and why is everybody talking about it? To put it simply, Juneteenth is a combination of the words, June and Nineteenth. June 19 is an important date in American history. We have all learnt in our history textbooks that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, which ended the Civil War and slavery. What the textbooks skipped out on was that in reality, it took another three years for slavery to be completely abolished across the country. Galveston, Texas, was the last area of the Confederate States of America, where African-Americans were still enslaved.
It took the arrival of Union General Gordon Granger to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. On June 19, 1865, General Granger arrived in Galveston with 2,000 Union troops dressed in red and enforced the Emancipation Proclamation by reading a synopsis of it and announcing that all the slaves were free. This officially marked the end of slavery across the country and the beginning of celebrations of Emancipation Day. Juneteenth was initially known as Emancipation Day. On that day, the now emancipated African-Americans decided that they would never forget the day and celebrate their freedom.
The first Emancipation Day was celebrated in January 1866, when over 1,000 African-American families gathered around an African-American chapel in Galveston. They celebrated the day by singing songs, roasting a hog and reading the proclamation. Over the years, the Emancipation Day soon became Juneteenth, in honor of the month and the date when General Granger arrived in Galveston and enforced the proclamation.
Kelly E Navies, a museum specialist and oral historian with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, explained, "The celebration of Juneteenth gives people a chance to pause and think about the history behind what we are going through right now. It gives people the opportunity to ask themselves what are the root causes to the racial conflicts we are experiencing." Juneteenth has been celebrated informally since 1865, but Texas became the first state to make it a state holiday in 1980.
Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations spread to several states across the country. Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia mark June 19 as a state holiday or observance. Communities across the country celebrate it with food, dancing, and singing. Despite many activists pushing for Juneteenth to be declared as a federal holiday, it has been passed on by the lawmakers and overlooked by non-African-Americans.
Finally, on June 18, 2020, Senator Kamala Harris announced that she would be introducing a bill that would declare Juneteenth as a national holiday. She said, "Together with my colleagues Cory Booker, Tina Smith and Ed Markey, we are proposing that Juneteenth be a national holiday.” Several companies like Nike, Lyft, NFL, and Tumblr, etc, are already giving their employees a paid leave on June 19 to celebrate the abolishment of slavery.
It has been 155 years since the Emancipation Proclamation has been enforced across the country, but the African-Americans continue to be subject to systemic racism and injustice across the country. Following the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter Movement has been at the forefront. With people protesting against the police brutality several black people are subjected to, and openly discussing racism and injustice meted out against them, Juneteenth celebration in 2020 will be more important than ever.