Juneteenth: A day of joy and pain – and now protest across the US

(AP) – In any other year, Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the day in 1865 that all enslaved black people learned they had been freed from bondage, would be marked by African American families across the nation with a parade or a community festival.

But today, Juneteenth 2020 will be a day of protest in many places. From coast to coast, celebrations will include marches and demonstrations of civil disobedience.

And like the nationwide protests that followed the recent deaths of black men and women in Minnesota, Kentucky and Georgia at the hands of white police, Juneteenth celebrations are likely to be strikingly more multiracial this year, Aaron Morrison and Kat Stafford report. 

One black Army veteran told AP he will be treating “Juneteenth with the same fanfare as the Fourth of July or Memorial Day” for the first time this year.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free 155 years ago. Now, with support growing for the racial justice movement, 2020 may be remembered as the year the holiday reached a new level of recognition.

While the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the South in 1863, it wasn’t enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War two years later. Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word didn’t reach the last enslaved black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to Galveston, Texas.

Celebrations have typically included parades, barbecues, concerts and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation. But after massive demonstrations over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, there has been a seismic shift to further elevate black voices. That desire is being felt as states and cities move to make Juneteenth an official paid holiday.

Here’s a look at the holiday and its history:

BEGINNINGS

When Union troops arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger delivered General Order No. 3, which said: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”

The next year, former slaves started celebrating Juneteenth in Galveston, and it eventually reached other states.

Early Juneteenth celebrations were mostly cookouts or barbecues, said Robert Widell Jr., a professor of African American history at the University of Rhode Island and author of “Birmingham and the Long Black Freedom Struggle.” They were typically large, joyous gatherings as former enslaved people prioritized trying to reunite with family.

“It seems fitting that this celebration to commemorate emancipation and commemorate freedom would have that element of a family reunion,” Widell said.

To simply hold a gathering was hugely significant after the Civil War. Former Confederate states used restrictive measures, known as the “black codes,” to keep the dynamics of slavery in place, Widell said.

“Just claiming that public space is indicative of efforts to claim freedom for yourself and to define the terms of what that freedom is going to be and not have somebody else define what your freedom is going to look like,” he said.

EUP News Staff
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