What is Juneteenth and why is it celebrated? According to history.com, Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is short for June 19 and, broadly speaking, commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States. It is considered the longest running African American holiday.
Juneteenth marks the day Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army went to Galveston, Texas and informed slaves that the Civil War had ended and slavery had been abolished. Granger and roughly 2,000 Union soldiers were there to enforce President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had actually gone into effect more than two years earlier.
The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, had established that all enslaved people in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
But in reality, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t instantly free all slaves. The proclamation only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control. However, as Northern troops advanced into the Confederate South, many slaves fled behind Union lines.
General Granger’s arrival in Galveston that June signaled freedom for Texas’ 250,000 slaves. Although emancipation didn’t happen overnight for everyone — in some cases, slave owners withheld the information until after harvest season — celebrations broke out amongst the newly freed, and Juneteenth was born. That December, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.
In the year following, freedmen in Texas organized the first of what became the annual celebration of “Jubilee Day” on June 19. In the ensuing decades, Juneteenth commemorations featured music, barbecues, prayer services and other activities, and as African Americans migrated from Texas to other parts of the country the Juneteenth tradition spread. In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday.
This year, most Juneteenth events and celebrations have been curtailed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, some virtual and online celebrations are happening around the country. Last year, a four-day, citywide celebrating the occasion was held in Flint, starting with the annual Freedom Dinner, a series of talks, family-friendly activities at Max Brandon Park and a parade. For this year’s festivities, please visit the Flint Juneteenth Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/JuneteenthFlint/