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Juneteenth

What is Juneteenth and why is it celebrated? Why is it important to African-American?

Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. Juneteenth 2022 holiday marks the anniversary of the announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865, proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in Texas. Originating in Galveston, the holiday has since been celebrated annually on June 19 in various parts of the United States, often broadly celebrating African-American culture. The day was first recognized as a federal holiday in June 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.

What is Juneteenth and why is it celebrated?

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the date on which enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally received the news they were free. This was two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, one year after the Senate passed the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, on April 18, 1864, and six months after it was passed by the House on January 31, 1865.

Why is recognizing Juneteenth especially important now?

The history of Black experiences in the U.S. is “justice delayed” and, all too often, “justice denied.” This is not a Black problem. It is an American problem. Consider the events of the last few years, including a global pandemic that is disproportionately impacting Black and Brown communities, a righteous reckoning over policing and its relationship to anti-Black violence, and the toppling and removal of anti-Black monuments from public spaces. These turbulent times serve as a resounding affirmation that the work of Black studies departments, programs, centers and institutes remain as urgent now as it ever has been.

MLK Day is a day of service and reflection that focuses on the life and civil rights accomplishments of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black History month honors African American contributions to the nation and is a designated time to center knowledge that is often marginalized the other 11 months of the year. But these do not explicitly call the nation to collectively celebrate and recommit itself to the project of Black freedom.

Juneteenth ought to be both a federal celebration and an annual reckoning on race that prompts government agencies, as well as private industry, to evaluate the ways in which their policies facilitate or frustrate Black experiences of equity and inclusion.

Why is Juneteenth important to African-American?

Celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s, Juneteenth has become the most well-known commemoration for the ending of slavery in the United States. Last year, it was established as a federal holiday.

On Friday, June 17, USF’s Office of Multicultural Affairs commemorated Juneteenth on the St. Petersburg campus, bringing together the community to shed light on the holiday’s complicated history, discuss current racial justice issues and celebrate through artistic performances. Music, great food and a joyous atmosphere added to the festivity. The goal, said event organizers, was to raise awareness about the nation’s newest national holiday.

“For me personally, it is important to put on this celebration because I just learned about Juneteenth a few years ago, and I’m sure that is true of many others in our community,” said Dewayne Anderson, assistant program director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs on the St. Petersburg campus. “The fact that I didn’t learn about it until I was in my 20s is the reason why we need to celebrate. It is an extremely important landmark in black history.”

“We are getting a day off, now that it is a federal holiday, but why are we getting that day off? Understanding why is really what this event is about,” said Johanna Heule, assistant director of programming for the Office of Multicultural Affairs on the Tampa campus.

Dating back to 1865, Juneteenth commemorates the day when 250,000 slaves in the state of Texas, which became the last bastion for slavery during the final days of the Civil War, were declared free by the U.S. Army. As soon as the following year, local festivities were organized in African American communities to celebrate and remember the significance of that day, June 19. The celebrations continued year after year.

What is the difference between Juneteenth and 4th of July?

At a time when America’s freedom is endangered by efforts to restrict or even thwart voting rights for all, it may be timely for us to have two holidays to celebrate our nation’s freedom and independence—both actual and aspirational. July 4th ends a two-week, bookended period of equally important occasions that one might call our Freedom Days. It began with historic significance in our first celebration of Juneteenth, June 19, as a national holiday.

And now we celebrate this Independence Day six months after our nation’s democratic values came under a brutal attack that bewildered and dismayed many citizens. Un-civil insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol and sought to abort the certification of our 2020 Presidential election outcome. Now one house of Congress is about to investigate what is still an evolving and disturbing drama that begs for more thorough analysis and remediation.

“Man is born free. Yet, everywhere he is in chains,” wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau in The Social Contract. On July 4, 1776, the U.S. declared its independence from Great Britain. But for nearly 90 more years the chains of chattel slavery continued to rattle, chafe and imprison millions of African Americans. Admittedly, many still hear the harsh echoes of those chains and feel their biting sting even today.

Its own Declaration of Independence did not fully free this emerging nation until it signed the Treaty of Paris to end the Revolutionary War in 1783. But it allowed General George Washington to form a legal army of citizens.

Likewise, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, approved by Congress on January 1, 1863, did not really emancipate the Confederate States’ slaves. But it did allow the Union Army to legally recruit and accept escaped slaves as soldiers, for they were no longer to be considered anyone’s property.

Juneteenth is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared a holiday in 1986. Juneteenth also falls within the statutory Honor America Days period, which lasts for 21 days from Flag Day (June 14) to Independence Day.

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