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What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth celebrates the date that Union soldiers enforced the Emancipation Proclamation by freeing all remaining slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. More than two years after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Texas was the last remaining state that continued to allow enslavement in violation of federal law. Although the rumors of freedom were widespread after the war ended, actual emancipation was not announced in Texas until General Gordon Granger came to Galveston to issue General Order #3 on the 19th of June.
Why so long? The end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Lone Star State due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce it. Ironically, Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday in 1980; thanks to Al Edwards, an African-American state legislator.
On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a law proclaiming Juneteenth, June 19, a federal holiday. Juneteenth National Independence Day is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
Isn’t Juneteenth a “made up” holiday created by the left?
In my opinion, the holiday should not be a topic of political division. As of 2021, it is a 156 year-old celebration. So, it is a “legitimate” holiday of long-standing and not one created for political advantage. However, as to be expected in this age of political hyper-partisanship, Juneteenth became an issue of currying favor with voters. President Trump sought to take credit for bringing Juneteenth to the mainstream. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, this was reported.
On race issues, Mr. Trump said a black Secret Service agent told him the meaning of Juneteenth as the president was facing criticism for initially planning to hold his first campaign rally in three months on the day.
The rally is scheduled to be held in Tulsa, Okla., where, in 1921, a mob of white residents attacked and killed black community members, destroying a thriving black business district.
Holding a rally on that day, particularly as racial protests continued throughout the country, was insensitive, African-American leaders told Mr. Trump. He eventually pushed the rally back a day to June 20.
“I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous,” Mr. Trump said, referring to news coverage of the rally date. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”
Mr. Trump said he polled many people around him, none of whom had heard of Juneteenth. Mr. Trump paused the interview to ask an aide if she had heard of Juneteenth, and she pointed out that the White House had issued a statement last year commemorating the day. Mr. Trump’s White House has put out statements on Juneteenth during each of his first three years.
On the other side of the political spectrum, several people pointed out that President Obama had touted the significance of Juneteenth since his first year in office. To quote USA Today…
According to White House archives, during his time in the Oval Office, Obama made an official White House statement regarding Juneteenth on seven separate occasions, beginning during his first year in office in 2009, with the exception of 2013, based on our research. That year, he was in Berlin on Juneteenth.
Several tweets from the White House’s official account also coincided with the statements from past years.
All that being said, no matter who is credited, Juneteenth did not rise to mainstream prominence until recently (as in since 2020). One proof of that is the volume of online searches on the subject. According to Google Trends data, searches on Juneteenth were relatively low until 2018 when a sharp spike was recorded. Last year, searches on Juneteenth trended to its highest recording to date; most notably in the southern states.
I think in this case, both political sides are right. How? President Trump did bring Juneteenth to prominence because as with so many things he said, the mainstream media was quick to amplify his comments in order to ridicule him.
Conversely, the media was mostly silent when Obama mentioned Juneteenth on a regular basis. As a result, most people never heard of it. Make sense?
As further evidence of Juneteenth being known to some but not others, consider the cultures of various states. For example, Joy Yvonne Jones, president of the San Diego Black Artist Collective said this about her Juneteenth experiences growing up.
“Growing up in Houston,” says Jones, “Juneteenth was always a huge deal, that involved the entire city. It was a big day. There was a downtown parade, and people were given the day off from work. I thought it was a national holiday!
“When I moved to San Diego in 2016 (her husband of six years is a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton), I saw that there wasn’t much happening here for Juneteenth. I’ve been talking about a Juneteenth Festival ever since.”
In Atlanta, where I’m from, Juneteenth was not a grand tradition. I knew about Juneteenth but did not participate in a routine celebration to honor it. Due to the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd, there has been added sensitivity to the African-American experience. To support the message that Juneteenth is a holiday all Americans should remember in unity, and in some cases to pander to the Woke crowd, many businesses closed their businesses for a day.
What is the Juneteenth tradition?
Traditionally, Juneteenth is celebrated in the black community with street fairs, parades and concerts. Education and celebration being the cornerstone for all events and practices. For example, due to the holiday’s southern roots, barbecue is a must and red foods like strawberry soda, red drinks and red velvet cake are meant to symbolize ingenuity, resilience in bondage and honors the blood that was shed by African Americans during the slavery era. At some point there is an accounting of the history that lead to the event to include an excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation and/or a reading of the ratification of the 13th amendment, which formally abolished slavery in the United States. It reads:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
In honor Juneteenth, I offer up the following videos produced by PragerU. They discuss the racial history of the Democratic and Republican parties. As Juneteenth is a time to celebrate and heal, it is important to understand the past in order to progress into the future. Enjoy. And oh, happy Juneteenth!