Celebrating Freedom on Juneteenth

It’s finally summer – Chicago temperatures are in the 90s. I took a walk along the lake yesterday and was swooning – not so much from the heat but more from the mouthwatering smell of barbecue wafting my way from picnics in the park. I expect more of the same today. With a special extra cause for celebration. It is Juneteenth.

What exactly are we celebrating?

What exactly are we celebrating? On this day – that is, June 19 – in 1865, a general of the Union army issued an order in Texas freeing the slaves.

What About the Emancipation Proclamation?

If you haven’t heard of Juneteenth before, you might be confused. What about the Emancipation Proclamation that was issued 2 years earlier? January 1, 1863, a famous and important date in its own right. On that day, President Abraham Lincoln freed all slaves in confederate states. It did not free slaves in slaveholding states of the Union (such as Maryland). But it did cover a lot of people.

News travels Slow

Theoretically, the Emancipation Proclamation should have freed slaves in Texas since that state was part of the Confederacy. But as long as the Confederate armies fought on, it wasn’t so easy for slaves to claim their freedom. Texas held on to its slaves.

What About Appomattox?

OK. But the war actually did end on April, 9, 1865 when the Confederates surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. Well, news traveled slow back then. And, though the war officially ended in April, Texas Confederates were still fighting until early June.

Going National

So it makes sense that Texas celebrates Juneteenth. But why the rest of the country? Isn’t the Emancipation Proclamation or the official end of the war or the 13th Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, officially ending slavery throughout the United States – isn’t one of these a better official date for celebration?

Some have argued Yes for choosing one of the other days for official celebration. But through it all, black Texans held on to their celebration of Juneteenth. And as some began to move out of Texas, they carried the tradition across state lines. Then, flash forward to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. 1968 to be exact. In June of that year, two months after Martin Luther King was assassinated, King’s followers converged on Washington DC for the Poor People’s March. On June 19 – Juneteenth — of that year, the march concluded and participants returned to their homes across America. They carried the celebration of Juneteenth back with them .

Now there is an official Juneteenth holiday in many states. And how do we celebrate? With summer fun: great music, great friends, and barbecue. Yum!

Share your stories of celebrating Juneteenth!

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