Happy Juneteenth, and if you don’t know what that means, you probably will soon. Juneteenth (for “June 19th”) has been a popular holiday throughout the South for well over a century, but the current racial tensions have politicians and corporations around the nation suddenly jumping on the bandwagon to declare it a national or state holiday or paid leave day, only about 150 years late. Here’s what it’s about:
On June 19, 1865, Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 to the slaves in Galveston, Texas, which informed them that they were free and now had “an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves.” This was 2-1/2 years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth was a Texas celebration for many years, starting in 1866, but ramping up in 1872, when former slaves bought 10 acres of land in Houston to create Emancipation Park, the city's only park and swimming pool open to African-Americans, and the site of a big annual Juneteeth celebration. It gradually spread throughout the South, but most people outside the South knew very little about it until very recently.
Ironically, Juneteenth has finally entered the national consciousness during a summer when the coronavirus has killed mass public gatherings, so the usual barbecues and concerts will mostly be restricted to virtual events, backyards and close family this year.
I know some people will be cynical and call the sudden push for Juneteenth pandering or politics, but as someone who grew up in the South, I can assure you you’re lucky to finally discover Juneteenth. It’s a great holiday that celebrates freedom just as much as the Fourth of July does, and while it’s considered an African-American holiday, it’s something that every American should celebrate. Anything that can get us all back into public parks, celebrating together with music, fireworks, and barbecues, and remind us that people of all races are free and equal in America, is more than welcome now. It's necessary.