What is this Juneteenth of which you speak?

Juneteenth image.jpgA couple of reader questions came in this week following our interview with the inspiring African-American leader and mentor, Jason Dorsette.

I had mentioned therein about first meeting Mr. Dorsette two years ago this week at a local Juneteenth celebration. A few readers, even those in the southern United States had not heard of this commemoration. So, since today is the ascribed date of Juneteenth and the US Father's Day weekend is typically the time that municipal celebrations are held, I thought I'd leave you with a brief description and some good links.

I can't do any better than TIME's Gilbert Cruz as he began his 2008 article, A Brief History of Juneteenth:

There is a common misconception among Americans that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves with a stroke of his pen. Yet the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, did no such thing -- or, at least, it didn't do a very good job of it. Two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers sailed into Galveston, Texas, announced the end of the Civil War, and read aloud a general order freeing the quarter-million slaves residing in the state. It's likely that none of them had any idea that they had actually been freed more than two years before. It was truly a day of mass emancipation. It has become known as Juneteenth.

From the Texas State Library and Archives Commission:

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, is the name given to emancipation day by African-Americans in Texas. On that day in 1865 Union Major-General Gordon Granger read General Orders, No.3 to the people of Galveston. It stated,

"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, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

Matt Woolbright in the Houston Chronicle wrote yesterday of how Juneteenth is being celebrated in Galveston itself today.

An Obscure Texas Holiday Makes Its Way Across the U.S. is a 2004 New York Times article by Julia Moskin. I love this passage:

Juneteenth, which is traditionally celebrated on the third Saturday in June, began taking root across the country largely because of enthusiastic black "Texpats" like Mr. Kings, a retired Army medical administrator who spent 11 years stationed at Fort Hood, Tex. After buying a car repair business in Portland, he held a Juneteenth picnic the very first year.

"Even the black people here didn't know about Juneteenth," Mr. Kings said. "Now the white ladies come by on the first of June and start asking: `When's Juneteenth?' "

With its lighthearted name and tragicomic origins, Juneteenth appeals to many Americans by celebrating the end of slavery without dwelling on its legacy. Juneteenth, its celebrators say, is Martin Luther King's Birthday without the grieving.

"When I think of Martin, I can't help but see the dogs and the sticks and the little girls in the church," said Paul Herring, who has organized Juneteenth celebrations in Flint, Mich., for 10 years. "But when I think of Juneteenth, I see an old codger kicking up his heels and running down the road to tell everyone the happy news."

Which brings about my next point: can white people celebrate Juneteenth?

I asked this very question of an influential senior Black colleague when I was worried as to whether I would be welcome at our university's celebration in 2008. He told me that Juneteenth was for ALL people, anyone who celebrates the basic tenets of freedom, human dignity, and equality. There were a great many white people who were ecstatic that slaves were emancipated, especially in my native northeastern US and among the German-Americans opposed to slavery in Texas who founded towns like Fredericksburg and New Braunfels. (My paternal family lineage traces back to Germany with my great-great-grandfather arriving in New Jersey in 1859 just prior to the Civil War.)

Standing together publicly to denounce today's racism doesn't hurt either.

He also mentioned that the celebration is fortuitously held on the weekend of the US holiday, Father's Day - we as fathers should also use the occasion to acknowledge the roles and responsibilities of fatherhood and celebrate one another who play an essential role in the development of the next generation, an issue I had not previously heard articulated in reference to Juneteenth.

We had occasion these past two weeks to focus on the historical realities of slavery when a, 1850s photograph surfaced of two young boys being sold at auction, controversy notwithstanding. We can also use this time to remember that slavery is still rampant around the world. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center cites figures that between 18 and 27 million people are still enslaved worldwide. Among the 600,000 to 800,000 people subjected each year to international human trafficking, an estimated 17,500 are in the United States. Half of these are children.

Addendum: I just saw a tweet come across the wire from NPR's Backstory which features archival broadcasts on trending topics. The Truth About Juneteenth> digs to an even deeper level of relevance of today's holiday. In an interview with historian Hari Jones, Assistant Director of the African-American Civil War Museum in Washington, DC, Cheryl Corley on Michelle Martin's Tell Me More shares with us the true magnitude of contributions by soldiers of African descent in securing their own freedom.

You can read the transcript here but take the time to listen to the broadcast because Jones is a treasure trove of history with enthusiasm to match.

Should you be in the Research Triangle area today, I'll be at the downtown Durham Juneteenth celebration in CCB Plaza this afternoon at the booth of our public jazz radio station, WNCU-FM. Come say hello and become a member of the station.

What's happening in your community this weekend for Juneteenth?

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What a great post - thank you. I'll be at a Knit in Public Day event, but will make sure to emphasize that it's also Juneteenth. And the Marley clip was a great way to start the day.

Thanks from me also for this excellent post, Abel. I wanted to mark the occasion but simply didn't have time to collect links or write anything substantive -- and now I don't have to, I've just pointed here.

We are celebrating Juneteenth in a pharmaceutically appropriate way by adding carcinogenic substances to neurotoxin-rich plant matter.

(making mesquite-smoked chili peppers)

By Tsu Dho Nimh (not verified) on 20 Jun 2010 #permalink

Thank you for your Juneteenth post. However, it did not mention the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign and the 36 states with the District of Columbia that recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or state holiday observance, as well as the U.S. Congress. It made no mention of the National Day of Reconciliation and Healing From the Legacy of Enslavement and the National Juneteenth Black Holocaust "Maafa" Memorial Service. It left out that "June is Black Month!" - CELEBRATING JUNETEENTH JAZZ - "Preserving Our African American Jazz Legacy!"

It is good that you discovered America's 2nd Independence Day that has been celebrated for 145 years. However, in your discovery you should always mention the great progress that the "Modern Juneteenth Movement" has made in efforts to establish Juneteenth Independence Day as a National Day of Observance, like Flag Day and Patriot Day.

Frederick Douglass wrote in his famous speech "What to the American Slave is Your 4th of July" - "The Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn!"

Together we will see Juneteenth become a national holiday in America!

Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D.
Founder & Chairman
National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign
National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF)
National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Coumcil (NJCLC)
National Association of Juneteenth Jazz Presenters (NAJJP)

Why do we perpetuate the supernatural idea of race? Race does not exist in nature, and it shouldn't be promoted by ongoing use, expecially in the science community.