A truly historic day that somehow got lost in the history books.
Today, we commemorate Juneteenth, a day that finally marked the end of institutional slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended and that those who were enslaved were unconditionally free. Even though President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, in 1863, many slaves were still being held captive until General Granger arrived and officially freed the slaves.
Despite this great victory for African-Americans, this new freedom sparked a big wave of violence. Many ex-Confederate soldiers– still in uniform, carrying weapons–made it their duty to intimidate and harass Black Americans, something that’s too familiar to what’s still happening today. However, that didn’t stop the newly freed men and women; the first public celebration of “Juneteenth” happened exactly one year after, in 1866, when former slaves celebrated in the streets, everywhere they went.
The celebrations started in Galveston, which grew year after year as former slaves brought their families back to commemorate the day. In 1980, Texas became the first state to consider Juneteenth a holiday, and since then 45 other states and the District of Columbia followed.
Today, 155 years later, we still commemorate what was a powerful moment in black history, a day that is arguably as important as the Fourth of July, for it was the day when true independence for everyone was achieved.
Also referred to as Juneteenth Independence Day and Black Independence Day, this holiday has been acknowledged this year by many who weren’t aware of its existence before. In the past week, according to Google trends data, Google search interest in “Juneteenth meaning” spiked over 800%, and Juneteenth hit an all-time search high.
This year, though, things feel different. As protests over police brutality and racial discrimination arise, this holiday takes an even deeper meaning today.
While slavery, as it’s described in textbooks, is long gone, racial discrimination is unfortunately still present in so many aspects, in a subtle—and sometimes not-so-subtle— way. According to Brenda E. Stevenson, professor of History and African-American Studies at UCLA, “racism is deeply rooted in American culture and ideology, and we just have to keep digging deeper and deeper until those roots are out”, she states in an interview for the LA Times.
Black and colored people still have to face injustice and inequality in their everyday lives, and it is up to us to tear these barriers down by educating ourselves, opening our eyes to what’s happening, engaging in conversations about racial issues instead of turning the other cheek. We must all understand that we can never reach freedom unless we can all walk towards it united. The fight for freedom still continues but for a day, we celebrate a momentous occasion that brought us one very large step closer to our ultimate goal.