Juneteenth, observed on June 19 each year, celebrates the emancipation of slaves in the United States. On this day in 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the freedom of the enslaved.
Although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, about two and a half years prior to Granger’s arrival in Texas, it was Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to the Union that caused the new executive order to be enforced in Confederate states, according to Juneteenth.com.
“I think I remember hearing about Juneteenth in elementary [and] middle school, but my teachers never expanded on it so I never knew what it was,” said Sarah Laguerre, a sophomore health promotions major at the University of Georgia. “I only truly ever found out what it was through social media and through people talking about it and celebrating it.”
Juneneenth is the oldest country-wide celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the U.S., according to Juneteenth.com. Although celebrations declined in the early 1900s due to the Great Depression and curriculums omitting any mention the holiday, Juneteenth made a resurgence in 1968 during the Civil Rights Movement.
Since George Floyd’s death and the rise of protests across the country, the push to make Juneteenth a federal holiday has increased. Many have started online petitions to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. One Change.org petition has over 300,000 signatures. There are currently ten federal holidays, which are instituted by the U.S. government and give federal employees a paid day off.
States and private companies can choose to observe Juneteenth and give employees the day off. Texas was the first state to make it a recognized holiday in 1980. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam proposed last Tuesday to make Juneteenth a holiday recognized statewide, according to the Associated Press.
Those celebrating the holiday gather together to barbecue, fish and play baseball, among other activities. Having red food and drinks is a popular tradition. The red can represent different things for different people, but for many it represents the blood of ancestors. Juneteenth celebrations are also a time for education and self-reflection, according to Juneteenth.com. Special religious services are held with opportunities to pray together.
Laguerre said Juneteenth demonstrates a form of Black liberation and should be celebrated amongst Black Americans. Laguerre also said the event should be emphasized more in grade school history classes and featured more in entertainment to spread awareness.
A 2010 Juneteenth celebration in Athens included arts and crafts, cultural performances, educational information and workshops. The organizers’ mission was to instill a sense of pride in community and self, according to a 2010 Red & Black article.
ICUC Healing Center, a local nonprofit, will be hosting a Juneteenth celebration at the Rolling Ridge Apartments on Friday beginning at 7 p.m.
Other organizations will host virtual events to comply with social distancing procedures to avoid the spread of COVID-19.