In June 2021, the United States Congress passed a resolution establishing which Federal holiday?
And the answer: Juneteenth.
The first Juneteenth was celebrated in Texas on June 19, 1866. This marked the first anniversary of the day when African Americans first learned of the Emancipation Proclamation, over two years after the proclamation was issued. In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday.
On June 19, 1865, a word echoed through the land of Galveston, Texas: freedom. Coming some two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the 250,000+ enslaved African Americans under Confederate control in Texas were finally, by federal decree, freed. Juneteenth, as it came to be known, represents the anniversary of the emancipation announcement in Texas, and is celebrated each year on June 19.
Juneteenth marked the beginning of Reconstruction. For the first time in American history, Black Americans were able to travel at their own volition, reunite with their families, and take their skills to whichever job they chose. After the hardship of the Civil War, the notion of such freedoms were intoxicating, and excitement spread through Black communities like wildfire. Prominent Black politicians gave speeches to crowds while Black veterans donned their military gear. Hymns, spirituals, and ignited discussion about emancipation flooded the streets. The celebrations that took hold of Black communities throughout the nation were, in and of itself, an act of resistance to a nation emerging from war and uncertainty. Yet, the instability was far from over.
As the celebration faded, uncertainty rose. The opportunities purportedly assured to Black Americans in the Emancipation Proclamation's clause of "absolute equality" were, in reality, not all that assured. After all, emerging from the war were Confederate officials and soldiers to whom the notion of Black liberation was frightening, and in many cases was met with harsh and violent retaliation.
While emancipation meant freedom from bondage, it was also followed by a humanitarian crisis that prompted a difficult question for some 4 million, jobless Americans: what now? And how? While the Union military remained in the Confederate south to protect, house, and mitigate the response to newly freed African Americans, Black communities throughout the nation quickly came to the difficult realization that the majority of work to reconstruct the nation would not be aided by the federal government, much less the white public.
Yet, into the 20th century, the celebration of Juneteenth has only grown. Since its resurgence in the 1960s, the holiday has called for remembrance and reparation each June— as well as celebration and community. Though the act which creates a federal holiday for the date is a largely symbolic gesture, it urges a reflection on the hardship, inequity, and systematic oppression that has been suffered by Black Americans for hundreds of years. While celebrations, parades, speeches and other commemorative events kick off, consider making a donation to a Black-owned business or charity this Juneteenth.