Let's rewind the clock back to the mid 1860s. The American Civil War is going on and several citizens in the South flee west, toward Texas, in order to escape the fighting. They take their entire families with them, along with their "property". The population of Texas boomed, to say the least. Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation came into effect on January 1st 1863, but it had little effect on Texas or the rest of the Southern states (as you may recall from history class). Texas was relatively far from the fighting and there were a lack of Union troops to enforce the new executive order. Plus, smart-phones and the Internet weren't a thing, so news tended to travel slowly.
Union troops finally arrived at Galveston Island, Texas on June 18, 1865. The next day General Gordon Granger stood on the balcony of Galveston's Ashton Villa and read aloud the contents of "General Order No .3", which stated:
"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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
The newly freedmen rejoiced and celebrated in the streets! They organized the first annual Juneteenth celebration the following year. Black people across Texas pooled their funds together and purchased their own land, holding their Juneteenth celebrations there. They barbecued, ate a ton of food, and wore fancy clothing. Unfortunately, their fun didn't last. In the decades leading into the 20th century, Juneteenth celebrations declined due to Jim Crow laws and increasingly oppressive state constitutions. As the Industrial Era began, many black people moved from their rural environment into the city in order to find work. Many couldn't take the day off to celebrate. Between 1940 and 1970, 5 million black people left Texas and migrated to different areas of the United States, bringing their customs with them!
Juneteenth celebrations saw a resurgence in the 1960's, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. This trend continued into the '80s and '90s, becoming even more widespread! In 1994, The Juneteenth Committee met at Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans to work toward greater national celebration of the holiday. Chairman Paul Herring stated that ,"It's a time to reflect and rejoice, because we are the children of those who chose to survive." As of today, Juneteenth is celebrated nationwide and is gaining more recognition. Some US military bases abroad hold celebrations and Apple added Juneteenth to its calendar this year!
Paul Herring's statement is the essence of Juneteenth; it's a day of reflection, self-improvement, and celebration for African-Americans. As a man of color living in the southern United States, I always think about my place in today's society as well as my family history. I can do things today that my great-grandfather simply couldn't do in his time. Things as simple as jogging without the fear of being lynched, or sitting at the front of the college shuttle bus without being harassed, or marrying a white woman if I wanted to, or getting fast-food from the front counter (or drive-thru) rather than from the back door, just to name a few. I'm thankful for what my predecessors had to endure in order for me to have the opportunities I have today. Because of it's significance, I hope future Juneteenth celebrations will be celebrated more openly, akin to other national holidays!