Happy Juneteenth: Our National Independence Day

Juneteenth is an often-misunderstood holiday because of its complicated history. Even in the Black community, we celebrate in different ways. So, let’s clear up some of the confusion.


What is Juneteenth?

The date June 19th is abbreviated as "Juneteenth." Alternate titles include Black Independence Day, Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Juneteenth Independence Day and Juneteenth National Independence Day.


No matter what you call it, the holiday was first celebrated in Galveston, Texas in 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War. Even though three million slaves living in Confederate-controlled states were declared free under the terms of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, it didn’t instantly free any enslaved people. It would take more than two years before the news reached African Americans living in Texas, a slave-holding border state.


It was not until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that the state’s residents finally learned that slavery had been abolished. The troops were sent there to take control of the state and ensure all enslaved people were released, a truly significant day in history. That December, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.


Early Juneteenth celebrations

Juneteenth is the longest-running African American holiday, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. The first official Juneteenth celebrations took place in Texas on June 19, 1866. The original observances included prayer meetings and the singing of spirituals. People wore new clothes to represent their newfound freedom.


Within a few years, African Americans in other states were celebrating the day as well, making it an annual tradition. Celebrations have continued across the United States into the 21st century and typically include prayer and religious services, speeches, educational events, family gatherings and picnics, and festivals with music, food and dancing.


In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday and several others followed suit over the years. As the holiday spread, so has the public's understanding of Juneteenth, especially over the last few years. Americans are more familiar with Juneteenth as a holiday today than they were even a year ago when President Joe Biden signed a bill making it a federal holiday.


My Juneteenth experiences

I want to share my Juneteenth celebrations and what it looks like for me. I am from Philadelphia and consider myself an African American. In Philadelphia, based on how I grew up and my background, we celebrated the holiday in our own special way. We also celebrated by attending the Odunde Festival, the largest African American street festival in the country. Other African cultures celebrate Juneteenth based on their family culture. And there were planned events all over the country this past weekend.


The official day to celebrate Juneteenth is June 19th, but this year, I started celebrating the Friday before, early in the evening after work. I went to music festivals, concerts and gatherings with friends. Saturday through Sunday, I surrounded myself with family and loved ones, enjoying good food, music and "vibes."


During this time, I also educate my children on why this day is important to us. I dance, waving my pan African flag, to my favorite tunes and give offerings to my brave ancestors who lost their lives during slavery. I am grateful for their sacrifice and vow to make them proud.


On this day, let us be grateful for our lives while also remembering that our country continues to need healing. The struggle for liberty, justice and equality must continue!

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