Juneteenth – How Black People Celebrate Freedom
by Billie Wade, guest blogger
June 2021 – Juneteenth, June 19, is a joyous day for Black Americans for it ended slavery in the United States. On this day in 1865—more than two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation—General Gordon Granger read to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas “General Order No. 3.” The words of the order declared: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” This simple statement freed 250,000 slaves. The Declaration of Independence dated July 4, 1776, and signed August 2, 1776, did not declare freedom for what would multiply to almost 700,000 slaves in 1790.
Newly freed slaves immediately celebrated. On June 19, 1866, freedmen in Texas organized the first formal celebration, then called “Jubilee Day.” Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations have included music, barbecues, prayer services, parades, and other activities. Juneteenth spread to other regions of the country as Black people moved from Texas.
Juneteenth, thought to be the oldest African American holiday, is the melding of “June” and “nineteenth.” In 1979, Texas became the first state to decree Juneteenth an official holiday. Today, 47 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, while efforts to make it a national holiday have so far stalled in Congress.
The Emancipation Proclamation signed January 1, 1863, which provided in part, “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” freed only those slaves in Confederate States. When Northern forces marched into the South, numerous slaves fled to safety behind Union lines. Despite the order, some slaveowners suppressed the news until harvesting was done. On December 6, 1865, with ratification of the 13th Amendment, the institution of slavery in the United States was officially abolished.
President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation with some trepidation. He believed Black men should have the right to improve their lives and enjoy the rewards of their endeavors which equaled them to White men. However, he opposed absolute equality. In a September 18, 1858, debate with U. S. Senate opponent Stephen Douglas, he admitted that he was not nor ever had been in favor of social and political equality for Black and White people.
Mr. Lincoln went on to say he was against Black people having the right to vote, to sit on juries, to hold public office, and to marry White people. His biggest hurdle, though, was the endorsement of slavery by the U. S. Constitution which included clauses governing fugitive slaves and the clause defining slaves as three-fifths human. At one time, Lincoln considered removing Black people from the country and colonizing them in various locations in Africa which angered Black leaders and advocates. He said because of the racial differences and the hostilities of White people toward Black people it would be better if the races were separated. Little has changed in the past 156 years. When White people become uncomfortable, Black people must go away in all the many forms that happens in this country.
Although limited, the Emancipation Proclamation indicated a critical change in Lincoln’s mindset regarding slavery and the Civil War. Approximately 200,000 Black men served the Union Army and Navy landing a deadly strike against slavery and opening the door for abolition declared by the 13th Amendment.
Important dates in Iowa:
On March 22, 2021, the City of Des Moines announced Juneteenth is now an official City holiday. City offices and buildings will be closed on June 19 or the adjacent weekday to the date. Scott Sanders, City manager stated. “We hope by commemorating this date, we can better illustrate the significance of Juneteenth and generate greater recognition throughout our community and the state.”
June 19, 2015, Iowa Public Television, known as Iowa PBS as of January 1, 2020, presented “2015 Juneteenth Jamboree” produced by PBS station KRLU of Austin, Texas which included mention of the Iowa Juneteenth Observance.
On February 26, 2015, the Iowa House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 11(HR11) which stated, in part, “Be it resolved by the House of Representatives, that the House of Representatives acknowledges the 25th Anniversary of the Iowa Juneteenth Observance and recognizes the significant role of the Iowa Juneteenth Observance in serving as cultural and historical asset to Iowa’s citizens.”
On February 23, 2015, the Iowa Juneteenth Observance transferred to the Iowa State Historical Society (Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs) articles to be included in permanent museum collection records. They are used to strengthen the Juneteenth exhibit in the State Historical Museum of Iowa.
On April 11, 2002, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, currently serving as the United States Secretary of Agriculture, signed into law the official observance of Juneteenth on the third Saturday in June.
Information for this year’s Juneteenth Observance is highlighted by DSM USA of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.