Juneteenth is just a week away and it couldn't have come at a better time. Juneteenth is observed on June 19 every year to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The day assumes added significance this year, in the backdrop of the mass protests against racism following the death of George Floyd. Many companies and businesses are marking the day as a paid holiday this year.
The origins of Juneteenth
The day has been celebrated since 1865 when people across the country celebrated with food and festivities. Over the years, almost all the states across the United States have declared June 19 as a state holiday. However, despite giving equal importance to Juneteenth, the federal government is yet to declare it a national holiday.
Slavery ended in the United States more than one-and-a-half century ago but racial discrimination still exists. Floyd's death has given an opportunity to rethink on ending racial abuse and discrimination, adding special significance to Juneteenth this year.
More Than Century-Old Tradition
Juneteenth derived from merging the words June and nineteenth. It is believed to be the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. For most African-Americans, it is the Emancipation Day or Independence Day and holds equal importance as the Fourth of July, and is celebrated like other national festivals in many states.
It was on June 19, 1865, when a troop of Union soldiers under the leadership of Major General Gordon Granger reached Galveston, Texas, to deliver the message that the war had officially ended, making the enslaved free. This was exactly two years after then President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which became official on January 1, 1863.
Although Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation made all slaves free technically, in reality, it happened only on June 19, 1865. The day since then has been observed across all U.S. states but the celebrations were mostly informal. It was only in 1980 that Texas declared it a state holiday. Later other states also gave more importance to Juneteenth as a historical event. Today, June 19 is a state holiday in 47 states and the District of Columbia.
Debate Starts Again
June 19 has been celebrated for 155 years with pomp and glory. A range of activities such as rodeos, barbecuing, fishing and baseball are part of the festivities. Food like strawberry soda-pop today is synonymous with Juneteenth. However, despite 47 states declaring June 19 as a holiday, incidents of racial abuse and discrimination continue to be reported time and again.
In 1921, a white mob attack following tensions between the black and white communities took place in Tusla, Oklahama. The incident is considered one of the wildest and worst acts of racial violence in American history. This year, President Donald Trump will be holding a campaign rally at Tusla on June 19.
This year, Juneteenth has heated up debate over whether the government has done enough to bring an end to racial discrimination. Floyd's death has become a global issue with African-Americans once again taking to the streets to voice their fears over racial violence. Trump has largely remained silent on the issue and whenever he has spoken he has come up with threats that added fuel to the fire.
His move has been criticized by several Democratic lawmakers, activists and progressives. Things seemed to have flared up more this time as the corporate too have been showing solidarity with the black communities. This has seen the likes of Twitter, Square, Nike and media company Vox announcing June 19 as a paid holiday for their employees. It now needs to be seen if the federal government finally walks the same path.