Today, June 19th, is Juneteenth, a U.S. holiday that commemorates the emancipation of the last slaves in the United States. On June 8, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger led an occupation of Texas, whose slaves had not been affected by President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier. The following morning, June 19, 1865 – exactly 150 years ago today — General Granger read aloud the federal order announcing the complete emancipation of the remaining 250,000 slaves in Texas.
Texas freedmen organized the first celebrations of Juneteenth to mark the anniversary of that proclamation one year later through community gatherings and prayer. It became an official state holiday in Texas in 1980, and today, forty-three states and Washington, DC, recognize Juneteenth as an official day of ceremonial observance.
Contemporary Juneteenth celebrations are centered on the culture, heritage, and traditions of African-Americans. Activities often include parades, horseback riding or rodeos, baseball, and fishing; and guest speakers, music and dancing, and prayer services that reflect on the historical events surrounding the holiday also play a significant role. Barbecuing has become a tradition at many Juneteenth celebrations, bringing the “spirit and aromas that… the newly emancipated African Americans would have experienced during their ceremonies” into the day’s festivities.
This year’s celebrations will take on a charged and somber sense of meaning and purpose in the wake of the targeted attack that left nine fatally shot here in Charleston, South Carolina. Today marks a day of reflection across the nation and close to home for CORE Languages, as well.
Charleston was identified by the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture (scheduled to open in Washington, DC, in 2016) as a critical destination in educating Americans about the path toward emancipation in the United States. As an associate director of the Museum, Deborah Mack, told CNN: “Charleston looks the way it does because of African-American hands.” One of the few places in the country where the languages and traditions of African communities continue to thrive, the city of Charleston stands as a vital testament to the movement for black empowerment — and a very special place to take part in celebrations of the 150th Juneteenth.
Among the commemorative events taking place in the area is the annual Juneteenth celebration at the Jenkins Institute, organized by the Gullah Geechee Group and CharlestonGOOD. More information on the celebration, taking place on the afternoon of June 20th, is available here.