Historical & Current Events dictionary

Juneteenth

[ joon-teenth ]

What does Juneteenth mean?

Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation (freeing) of enslaved people in Texas on June 19, 1865. The holiday more broadly commemorates the end of slavery in the US.

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I Have a Dream speech, Black Panthers, Black Girl Magic, Black Twitter

What is the history of Juneteenth?

On June 19th, 1865 in Galveston, Texas, Union soldiers proclaimed that the Civil War had ended (after General Lee’s surrender and the North won). They also announced that anyone enslaved was now emancipated and slavery was abolished. General Gordon Granger read aloud the following message (from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission):

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.

This was two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed enslaved people in Confederate states, which included Texas. June 19 is historical, and has since been celebrated as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, because it was the day the last of the enslaved people became aware of their freedom.

But, why the terrible two-year delay in giving enslaved people their freedom in Texas? A number of explanations have been put forth, ranging from a messenger delivering the news getting shot to, far more cruelly, the news being deliberately withheld so enslaved people owners could get one more cotton harvest. The likely story is that there weren’t that many Union troops in Texas to enforce Lincoln’s proclamation.

What did some newly freed Black Americans do after June 19, 1865? A lot of them moved North, because the North represented freedom and opportunity, as well as because many of their owners weren’t fully granting them their freedom.

The following year, they celebrated this date, and their descendants continued to celebrate it. The term Juneteenth is a blend of the words June and nineteenth, and it is evidenced in the record by 1890 in Galveston’s Daily News.

Examples of Juneteenth

For many African Americans, it's even more significant than Independence Day. Here’s why we should make Juneteenth a national holiday.
@blackvoices, June 2018
"Twitter and Square on Tuesday designated Juneteenth, which celebrates the end of slavery in America, as a company holiday — the latest conciliatory overtures by major corporations since the widespread protests over police brutality and the death of George Floyd."

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How is Juneteenth celebrated?

Celebrations consist of prayer, gathering, singing and dancing, and, for some, an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston, Texas. Guest speakers may present at bigger events held on the day, which many focus on themes of education and self-improvement as well as prayer. Many celebrations include a tradition of reading the Emancipation Proclamation.

Festivities notably include rodeos and baseball. Many foods and drinks are red in color (e.g., strawberry soda, barbecue, and red velvet cake). Red is said to represent the blood shed by enslaved people, and has also been connected to symbolism of the color in West Africa, where many enslaved people were taken from.

Juneteenth even has its own flag, which draws on the American and Texas flag.

The Juneteenth Flag, which is a rectangle whose top half is blue and bottom half is red, with a single white star in its center, outlined with a star-like burst.

Louisiana Children’s Museum

On January 1, 1980, Texas declared Juneteenth an official state holiday. It has since become a much more recognized holiday as more and more states and institutions (such as the Smithsonian) hold celebrations on the date—currently, all but three states officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or observance in some form. Juneteenth organizers use the occasion to promote knowledge and appreciation of Black history and culture.

More more people are becoming aware of Juneteenth and what it represents for both Black Americans and the US as a whole. It is a historical day, and people use the term to reflect on the US’s painful past while also celebrating the great achievements and impact of Black culture in the US now. It’s also a day to think about how far we still have to go in achieving racial equality in the US.

The sitcom Black-ish notably aired an episode entitled “Juneteenth” as their Season 4 premiere in 2017 (the plot elevates Juneteenth as a Black holiday), and that is just the beginning of more of Juneteenth conversations and dialogue in the media.

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of Juneteenth like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of Juneteenth that will help our users expand their word mastery.