As of last year, the United States officially made Juneteenth a national holiday. This day of emancipation is to be celebrated as a day of liberation and freedom. With every holiday, it is important for us to have a firm grasp of its history and significance, so for this blog, let us do a brief history lesson on Juneteenth, and why it matters for us as a nation today.
Many were taught that slavery ended with The Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln on September 22nd, 1862. However, many states were very slow to take action, the slowest being Texas. When the last word was given to the slaves in Galveston, there were over 250,000 slaves. Many slave owners sent their slaves here to avoid the news of freedom, but on June 19th, 1865, the Union army arrived. The next day, General Gordon Ganger gave word that the slaves of Texas were indeed freed. This did not ultimately end slavery. Instead, many slave owners kept the enslaved until the end of a season, a harvest, or did not grant them their freedom at all. For those that were freed or who had escaped, they faced death. Even in the face of these wearying times, black people still found hope and ways to come together.
The black community in Galveston created Juneteenth to celebrate their new found liberation. This was no easy feat, for to remember any such thing for people of color was frowned upon. So, to consecrate this day, black communities all over the state of Texas had to be resourceful. One example is a black community in Houston combining resources totaling $1000 to purchase a plot of land that would always be used to celebrate Juneteenth. Through this kind of sheer determination and unity seen in the black community, Juneteenth is known as one of the oldest and most long-lasting holidays to be celebrated in American history.
Since then, the black community has commemorated this day in various ways, including the eating of red foods, including (but not limited to) watermelon, red velvet cake, and red soda. Though history gives several reasons as to why red food is significant, they all root themselves in looking to the past. Eating red foods is meant to pay homage to the resilience of the enslaved ancestors and how their resilience can strengthen our continuous march toward freedom and liberation today.
The history of this holiday is so rich, and we hope you feel encouraged to research more about this day. Though we are past Juneteenth, the themes we see of liberation, community, freedom, and remembrance should continue to be lived through us every day, no matter your race or creed. We still have much work to do, but if we continue to look to the past, we can find answers for our future. For our white allies and co-conspirators, reflect on the ways you can leverage your privilege for the betterment of others. And to our fellow black community, may you be reminded of the need to celebrate the freedom you have because of the ones who have come before you, and may you remember the importance of coming together with those around you to build a brighter future for those to come after you.