Juneteenth celebrations commemorate the end of slavery
Today marks Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of African-Americans from slavery, a day that is widely celebrated in broad pockets of the American south and west. It is a time of community gatherings, some held throughout the month of June, that focus on the jubilant aspect of this historical moment.
It was June 19, 1865 when soldiers of the Union Army told an assembled group: “In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Yet, the name “Juneteenth” is the spawn of a twist of intrigue fitting for the types of injustices blacks faced in America as slaves — and the famous African-American wordplay born of the slave experience.
Some slaves freed years after true emancipation
These words promising freedom were uttered over two years after Abraham Lincoln officially had freed America’s slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.
Despite its deceptive origins, Juneteenth remains the longest-running commemoration of the end of African-American enslavement, now in its 148th year.
The oldest event held in honor of Juneteenth is Houston’s annual Juneteenth Festival. Today marks the 141st year of the fete.
For those who observe it, Juneteenth is “a time for reflection” and “rejoicing,” as well as “self-improvement,” according to a leading site on the day, Juneteenth.com.
New Frederick Douglass statue unveiled today
The U.S. government also selected the day to commemorate the social contributions of Frederick Douglass, one of our nation’s most prominent abolitionists and orators, who used the power of his words to battle slavery after escaping to freedom.
A statue of Douglass was erected in Emancipation Hall today on Capitol Hill consecrating the life of this freedom fighter on a date that symbolizes everything he worked towards.
“Juneteenth is an opportunity for us to reflect on where we have been as a country and envision a stronger future,” Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin said in a statement about this event. “The unveiling of the Frederick Douglass statue today in the U.S. Capitol is a powerful reminder of the immense racial progress we have made as a nation and the great African American heroes that brought us thus far on our journey towards equality for all people.
“I am proud that in my hometown, Milwaukee residents have continued this Juneteenth celebration for over 30 years. Wisconsinites across my state recognize today as the official ‘Day of Jubilee,'” she continued.
“As we recommit ourselves to racial justice, I urge each American to learn more about Juneteenth and its profound impact on American history.”
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.