Occasions 365

Juneteenth

Commemorate the abolition of slavery on Juneteenth

Juneteenth is one of the more understated holidays celebrated in the United States. Also known as "Emancipation Day" and "Freedom Day," Juneteenth Day commemorates one of the most important political events in U.S. history: the abolition of slavery. It is celebrated annually on the 13th of June.

What Is Juneteenth?

Because it's a relatively new celebration, many Americans remain largely unaware of Juneteenth Day; indeed, the origins of this observance are dark and gloomy. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by congress September 12, 1862, with the demand that it go into effect by New Year's Day of the following year. However, slave owners were reluctant to acknowledge the legislation and many states did not enforce the provisions of the proclamation, leaving slaves at the mercy of their masters with no one to turn to.

In states like Georgia, Texas, Virginia and Louisiana, the daily life of a slave was not much different on January 1, 1863 than it was when slavery was still technically legal. This continued until June 19, 1865, when federal troops moved into Galveston, Texas, which soon became the first city to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Other states, seeing the gravity of the situation, quickly followed suit.

The roots of the holiday were laid in Galveston, where small celebrations acknowledging the emancipation of slavery were held on the anniversary of the legislation's first enforcement. It didn't become a national observance, however, until California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger brought it to the country's attention in 2005.

How is Juneteenth Celebrated in Commumities?

Backyard cookouts are a mainstay of a Juneteenth celebration, but you can host a Juneteenth party just about anywhere. Block parties and street parades are wonderful ways to commemorate the abolition of slavery, and inviting your neighbors and friends to celebrate with you brings everyone closer. However, the manner in which you choose to celebrate Juneteenth isn't as important as remembering the importance of the events that led to the holiday's observance. Party planning is secondary to honoring the sacrifices made by previous generations.

Pictures depicting the tribulations of slavery are a large part of Freedom Day. The old adage, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it" is often recited. Recognition of the continuing struggle for racial equality is another important part of Juneteenth Day; the holiday aims to break down the walls of racial intolerance that still divide many of us.

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