Celebrating Juneteenth

Juneteenth Freedom Day June 19 face in profile

Juneteenth Celebration: A Brief History

Juneteenth, a holiday first commemorated in Texas, marks the date in 1865 when slaves were read federal orders freeing them under the terms of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

The celebration takes its name from “June” plus “nineteenth,” and marks the June 19th day when Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and the enslaved were now free. He read from General Order Number 3 which began:

"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."

Known as Emancipation Day or Black Independence Day in some circles, this holiday was recognized in 2006 by the state of Ohio and is now officially observed in 47 of our 50 states.

A Juneteenth conversation with scholars

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion reached out to several African American history scholars to learn more about Juneteenth. Here is what Hasan Kwame Jeffries, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of History at The Ohio State University and Marlin Barber, PhD, Senior Instructor in the Department of History at Missouri State University had to say.

How should people honor Juneteenth?

Professor Barber: I do not think there is one particular way people should honor or celebrate June 19. However, I do think Americans would do well to honor it as a significant day in American history. Regardless of a person's heritage, it can be celebrated as a part of the American story. In the process, I think people can also be informed about how liberty did not come all at once for all Americans. That said, I also think recognizing the significance of the contributions to America from people of African heritage should play a role in celebrations.

Professor Jeffries: Two ways – reflection and celebration. Reflection on the original purpose of the event and the long history of struggle against slavery that led to that liberation moment, and celebration – in the spirit of our ancestors – of the perseverance of African Americans against racism and inequality.

Can you explain why in recent times there a resurgence to the celebration of Juneteenth?

Professor Barber: I think in part recently there have been scholars, community advocates, filmmakers, journalists, and others that have drawn attention to America's 19th century and that many of the stories of Americans have been overlooked. Books, articles, films, documentaries, and public events have highlighted Juneteenth. Black communities across the U.S. have historically celebrated the day as a day of jubilee. However, outside of those communities it was not widely-known. I think that as Black American culture has become more mainstream so too has cultural celebrations, such as Juneteenth.

Professor Jeffries: There has been renewed interest in finding ways to counter white supremacist propaganda in the public square, and this kind of historical celebration represents the best part of the tradition of reclaiming Black space.

What is the enduring legacy of Juneteenth?

Professor Barber: I think the legacy has been complex. Not all Black Americans celebrate Juneteenth, but for others they see it as a time to celebrate emancipation, community, and reunion. For others it was a day of independence. The formerly enslaved orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass asked what was the 4th of July to the slave? His response was that the 4th was a constant reminder of the injustices in America as enslaved people were not free. One immediate consequence of emancipation in 1865 was that enslaved people were now free to reunite with loved ones who had been separated through slave auctions and sales. Some families and communities were reunited. I think present day celebrations revolve around reunions of families, friends, and communities. I think a more modern day legacy also demonstrates for many that they have their own space, be it ever so limited, to celebrate their place in the U.S.

Professor Jeffries: It's a reminder that African Americans not only endured the horrors of slavery, but also that they did so with their humanity intact.

With emancipation did other problems arise for formerly enslaved peoples?

Professor Barber: Absolutely! According to historian James L. Huston, enslaved people were worth about $3 billion in 1860. This meant that not only did southern enslavers lose labor, they lost a substantial amount of property. In 1865, the Union army, in an attempt to solve the labor issues, instituted regulations that forced formerly enslaved people back into the cotton fields working for many of the same plantation owners who used to hold them as chattel property. Freed people also faced terrorism from white southerners. Former Confederates formed organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan (1865) that sought to intimidate Black southerners and Republicans who were working to reconstruct the South. By the late 1870s in all of the states of the former Confederacy, laws - Black Codes - had been implemented, and most Blacks were stripped of their political, social, and economic liberties. State laws restricted them to certain occupations, restricted their voting rights, and set the stage for Jim Crow segregation. With emancipation came freedom but also a concerted effort by many white southerners to maintain superiority over African Americans. Lynching would also take place during the time period, many times as an attempt to curtail Black economic growth. Ida B. Well's late-19th century writings exposed this aspect of Black life in the South.

Professor Jeffries: After emancipation, African Americans continued to fight to give meaning to freedom, to secure those civil rights and human rights that had been denied them during slavery and continued to be denied them for more than a century afterward.

Please explain why the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) wasn't enforced in Texas in 1865?

Professor Barber: Lincoln's proclamation in 1863 did not really free any enslaved person. It applied only to enslaved people who were in areas of rebellion against the United States or held by people in open rebellion. Those areas (such as Texas) did not consider themselves to be a part of the United States and did not recognize Lincoln's authority. Galveston, Texas is an island on the Gulf Coast, so it took time before Union soldiers actually reached the island to inform people.

Professor Jeffries: The EP was unenforceable everywhere that it actually applied, which was “states still in full rebellion in 1863.” Texas was in the West, far removed from Civil War fighting, so it wasn't until June of 1865, three months after the cessation of hostilities, that Union troops arrived in Texas and liberated the enslaved people there.

Should Juneteenth be a national holiday and why?

Professor Barber: I think it should be a national holiday. Americans would do well to remember that not everyone gained freedom/independence with the Revolutionary War. As a multicultural nation there is not simply one story or one American past. American history is complex, and the path has been difficult and continues to be so. I think this celebration is unique in that it celebrates the independence, communities, and reunion of the only group of Americans that went from being chattel property (in this country) to freedom.

Professor Jeffries: Whether a national holiday or not, it should be a day of remembrance - of past struggles for freedom, a time of celebration, to embrace Black joy; and a time to reaffirm the need to keep fighting for freedom.

Reflections of a Scholar

Though launched as a celebration in Texas 155 years ago on the announcement of nominal freedom after two and one-half years of intentional delay after the Emancipation Proclamation, the enslaved nonetheless looked beyond that delay to create their own jubilee. In short, it is celebrated now both to help Blacks be clear-eyed about the price of freedom and to see the fetters in the shadows, even for those of us who think that freedom is more than nominal now. It is important that African Americans and our authentic allies understand that the power structure is yet dilatory in doing what is right for us. So there is no real way to discuss a post-racial society. At the same time, Lincoln Memorial with boy looking at statueJuneteenth is celebrated to honor the persistence and strength of Blacks of winning long-fought victories in the face of ongoing systemic racism. So, our celebration is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways, but the strength and persistence should be emphasized even as we continue to endure the physical, material, and psychological violence against us in the streets and in our homes. Even if we succeed in getting Juneteenth observed as a national holiday, we must remember how Black national holidays get eviscerated.

Fred L. Hord, PhD
Chair, Africana Studies-Knox College
Association for Black Culture Centers (ABCC) Executive Director and Founder

________

Juneteenth is deeply rooted in the African symbol of Sankofa, i.e., reaching back to move forward, reaching back to remember that this celebration commemorates one piece of the very large puzzle that led to freed enslaved Africans taking a major role in their own liberation and their own freedom. The significance of this celebration juxtaposed with the current events of the Black Lives Matter movement is best described as the Invisibility Syndrome because Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black communities for years. From days off work with pay to calls for a national holiday, all these nods of acknowledgements pale in comparison to the resilience of the communities that were most impacted by Juneteenth, the descendants of enslaved Africans in the diaspora who survived slavery only to continue the fight against individual and systemic racial terror, segregation, economic and political disenfranchisement, mass incarceration, and excessive use of force to the point of death by law enforcement. As we continue in the struggles for justice we will continue to garner empowerment in the jubilant celebrations of our culture, our activism and the humanity of our people.

Cynthia Tyson, PhD
Professor, Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education and Human Ecology
The Ohio State University

Learn more about Juneteenth

African American History and Culture Museum’s Juneteenth: A Celebration of Resilience and virtual tour

You can join this online event at any time on Friday, and then design your own celebration through online experiences, activities, and videos. You can also take a virtual tour of the Google Arts and Culture online exhibit.

Learn more about Juneteenth: A Celebration of Resilience
12 things you might not know about Juneteenth

There's more than one Independence Day in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced that the enslaved people were now free. Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth across the nation. Here's what you should know about the historic event and celebration.

Learn the 12 things you might not know about Juneteenth
What is Juneteenth?

Watch a video by ABC News about the history of the Juneteenth celebration.

Watch the ABC News video
The Juneteenth Reading List of Recommended Materials

Penguin Random House invites you to celebrate fiction and nonfiction by African American authors that continues to shape our culture, celebrate liberation, and acknowledge the ongoing work towards freedom and equality still necessary over 150 years later.

Learn more about the Penguin Random House reading list

2020 Columbus Celebrations of Juneteenth

The History of Juneteenth in Columbus, Ohio, by the Director of the Frank W. Hale, Jr. Black Cultural Center

Larry Williamson, Jr. was on the board of ACE Gallery when the “first” celebration was planned.

From my observations, I recollect Juneteenth as being initiated by Art for Community Expressions (ACE Gallery) in the early 90s under the leadership of Ms. Linda Lewis, although it is debatable because Mr. Mustafaa Shabazz and the Ujamma Bookstore took it to its greatest heights and embraced the celebration for many years. Columbus, Ohio, was one of the earlier Midwestern cities that adapted Juneteenth, and at its peak was considered to have the 3rd largest celebration in the nation with a three-day event drawing more than 150,000 people. In the city of Columbus, Juneteenth certainly evolved from a one-day event to a three-day celebration that showed the tremendous enthusiasm this city had for this commemorative occasion.

Juneteenth symbolizes, to a greater degree, what the protests are seeking today - Black liberation.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital Juneteenth Celebration

12:00 noon
Friday, June 19, 2020
Front lawn of the Main Hospital

Join us during this day of remembrance featuring African drum and dance performances. Bring your lunch, blanket, and feel free to wear your festive red, green, yellow or African attire. In case of inclement weather, the celebration will be rescheduled.

Juneteenth Festival Celebrating Freedom

Noon - 3:00 p.m.
Friday, June 19, 2020

Hosted by the King Arts Complex, this free festival features food, vendors and art and takes place from noon to 3:00 p.m. at 867 Mt. Vernon Avenue. The four-acre space includes Mayme Moore Park.

More information about Juneteenth Festival Celebrating Freedom
Juneteenth Love and Light BBQ

4:00 p.m.
Friday, June 19, 2020

This early evening event begins with a march from Columbus City Hall on Front St. to Goodale Park in the Short North. At Goodale Park, a community barbeque is planned to begin at 5:30 p.m. with attendees invited to bring their own food or pick up something onsite.

Learn more about Juneteenth Love and Light BBQ
Pride March to Commemorate Juneteenth

6:00 p.m.
Friday, June 19, 2020

Led by Black Out & Proud, this evening march begins at Columbus Police Department headquarters (120 Marconi Blvd.) and ends at MPACC BoxPark event venue, 925 Mt. Vernon Ave.

Learn more about Pride March to Commemorate Juneteenth
Juneteenth Commemoration

7:00 p.m.
Friday, June 19, 2020

National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, Ohio Chapter-Columbus Affiliate will hold a Juneteenth commemoration kicking off at Bicentennial Park.

Read more about the NABCA Commemoration
We are Maroon: Juneteenth at the BoxPark

11:30 a.m.
Saturday, June 20, 2020

Join Maroon Arts Group to commemorate Juneteenth at The BoxPark with painting for kids, DIY yard sign creation, and live performances of poetry, music and movement. This event is from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m and takes place at 925 Mt. Vernon Ave.

Learn more about We are Maroon: Juneteenth at the BoxPark