Updated June 21, 2021: This article was published prior to President Joe Biden’s signing of the bill which made Juneteenth the 11th U.S. holiday recognized by the federal government. It has since been edited to reflect this change.
How much do you know about Juneteenth? Dig a little deeper into the history of this U.S. observance with The Bridge – RV’s community for Black, Indigenious, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander (BILAP) employees – then get ready to put your knowledge to the test!
What is Juneteenth?
June 19, 1865, more than two months after the Confederate States Army surrendered and two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had legally ended slavery in Texas, the Union soldiers arrived in the port city of Galveston, Texas, armed with rifled muskets to announce the freedom of enslaved African-Americans. Up until that point, both the surrender and emancipation had been rumors. The announcement set off a celebration for the people of Texas. Juneteenth celebrations have since spread to other parts of the country to represent the abolishment of slavery.
Let’s see if you were paying attention to that brief history lesson.
1. True or False: Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the U.S.
False: Slavery didn’t end in Kentucky and Delaware until Dec. 18th. 1865 when the 13th Amendment was adopted.
2. True or false: Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery.
False: Gallipolis, Ohio began celebrating September 22, 1863 after the preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
3. True or False: Juneteenth celebrations have been ongoing for over 150 years.
False: While celebration for Juneteenth started off strong, civil right oppressions made it hard for freed African-Americans to celebrate openly. They faced many barriers, including where to celebrate, but their resilient spirit once again persevered. When formerly enslaved African Americans were limited on places to celebrate Juneteenth due to segregation, they purchased land to celebrate on.
In the 1870s, freed African Americans pooled together $800 to purchase 10 acres of land in what was known as Emancipation Park. It was the only public park and swimming pool in the Houston area that was open to African Americans until the 1950s.
Find out more about how African-Americans persevered with the MOHAI: Resistance and Resilience Remembrance virtual event on Saturday at 2 PM. This special storytelling-hour featuring Mr. Delbert Richardson will highlight resistance during the periods of American chattel slavery and Jim Crow, as well as focus on the resilience of Black brilliance.
Let’s talk about modern times. Juneteenth celebrations are starting to become more widespread as people learn the history. You may have seen a flag like the one below circulating around, or maybe just its colors.
The Pan-African flag – which is what you see above – is often used to celebrate Juneteenth. Its colors are green, red, and black. Red stands for blood – both the blood shed by Africans who died in their fight for liberation and the shared blood of the African people. Black represented black people. And green represents growth and fertility. The Pan-African flag was created in 1920 to represent ALL people of the African Diaspora and to symbolize black liberation in the United States. It’s often used in lieu of the Juneteenth flag.
The official Juneteenth flag was created by Ben Haith in 1997 and revised in 2000. Its colors — red, white, and blue — are the same as the U.S. flag, emphasizing that those formerly enslaved and their descendants are Americans.
The curved separation in colors symbolizes new horizons and opportunities for Black Americans. In the middle is the white “star of Texas bursting with new freedom throughout the land.”
So it has a flag, it has a date. It should be a federal holiday, right? What do you think?
4. True or False: Juneteenth is a federal holiday.
True! On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden officially signed a bill into law which made Juneteenth the 11th U.S. holiday recognized by the federal government.
So now that you know the facts, you may be ready to celebrate or join in the celebration as an ally. While there are plenty of in-person celebrations happening now that things are opening, there are still plenty of virtual options too. Check them out below!
MOHAI: Resistance and Resilience Remembrance
This special storytelling-hour featuring Mr. Delbert Richardson will highlight the resistance of his ancestors during the periods of American chattel slavery and Jim Crow, as well as focus on the resilience of Black brilliance. This online program draws from sections of the national award-winning American History Traveling Museum: The Unspoken Truths, which will be on display at MOHAI from June 18 through June 21, 2021.
Freedom Day: Celebrating Freedom and Pride Together
New York State and SUNY discuss and explore themes related to the celebration of Juneteenth during Pride.
The Amistad Center for Art and Culture Virtual Celebration
The Amistad Center for Art & Culture on Saturday, June 19 at 6:15 PM EST will host a virtual program of music, song, art, and celebrating with a DJ will be available online and on social media platforms.
Move for Equity: Celebrate Juneteenth with 8CRE and The NIH
Move for equity by walking, running, stretching, dancing, doing breathing exercises, or another form of fitness for a distance of 1.9K or a duration of 19 minutes. Additionally, NIH Fitness Center will host a 19 minute exercise in celebration on June 19th at 10am EDT.