“…the 19th of June wasn’t the exact day the Negro was freed. But that’s the day they told them that they was free… And my daddy told me that they whooped and hollered and bored holes in trees with augers and stopped it up with [gun] powder and light and that would be their blast for the celebration.” – Haye Turner
Wrapped in twisted history, Juneteenth marks the day that enslaved Africans were given their freedom.
One June 19th, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas with 2,000 troops, bringing news that the Civil War had ended and those enslaved were now free. While Abraham Lincoln declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free” when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, the Proclamation didn’t become federal law until 1863. Because Texas was so geographically isolated, the law was essentially ignored until Granger arrived two and a half years later.
“On plantations, masters had to decide when and how to announce the news — or wait for a government agent to arrive — and it was not uncommon for them to delay until after the harvest. Even in Galveston city, the ex-Confederate mayor flouted the Army by forcing the freed people back to work,” reports PBS.
But it was still a celebration for many.
The weather stayed perfect today! This is me in my official Grand Marshal role for the Juneteenth Atlanta Parade! Loving the Black love! pic.twitter.com/RuT1u4SaFq
— DR. RASHAD RICHEY (@Rashad1380) June 17, 2017
Since that day, Juneteenth, or “Freedom Day” has been celebrated by African Americans–remembering those who sacrificed and those who were lost in the struggle for freedom. The first public Juneteenth events started in 1866, becoming an official state holiday in Texas in 1980.
The day’s beginnings in Texas have spread across the nation. As Isabelle Wilkerson wrote in The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went.” While Juneteenth isn’t a federal holiday, 43 states and the District of Columbia recognize it as either a state or ceremonial one.
But even as we celebrate, many still wonder: are we truly free?
Trayvon Martin. Alton Sterling. Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Akai Gurley. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray. Jordan Edwards. Philando Castille. We say their names. We remember their stories. But we haven’t received any justice.
“Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be jailed as non-Hispanic white men,” says The Sentencing Project’s fact sheet.
Until the day when we can sell CDs and cigarettes, drive our cars, play in the streets, walk in stairwells, wear hoodies, and just…exist without being harassed or threatened, without being feared, without our lives being taken–can we really be free?