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Juneteenth: A Celebration That Not Many, Even Most Black Folk, Truly Understand

Updated on June 15, 2020
Ayende Alcala profile image

Ayende is a life long organizer, activist, and educator. He holds Degrees in Sociology (Social Inequality), and Afro-Ethnic studies.

Despite popular belief, Juneteenth is Not Black Independence Day!
Despite popular belief, Juneteenth is Not Black Independence Day!
Free*ish as even after the final emancipation of enslaved Africans in America we have never been allowed to realize our freedom fully.
Free*ish as even after the final emancipation of enslaved Africans in America we have never been allowed to realize our freedom fully.

In the wake of the recent wave of mass protests across this nation, America’s current racial crisis has forced everyone to reevaluate, reflect, and come to terms with where they ultimately stand when it comes to the question of race. One interesting byproduct of this critical moment in history has been the massive resurgence in interest, enormous upsurge in visibility, increased conversation about, and proliferation of planned celebrations to commemorate the upcoming Juneteenth holiday. Despite this unprecedented surge in popularity one thing is clear, Americans Black and White alike, still do not have a clear or even basic understand of what Juneteenth truly is or represents.

The confusion around Junteenth is almost universal, from the world famous and well trusted New York Times who in their most recent article on the subject proclaimed, “Juneteenth, [is] an annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States…”-New York Times*. To the website necessitating credibility by its name alone, Juneteenth.com, which states,“Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States,”- Juneteenth.com*. To MSNBC News Correspondent, Chris Jansing, who as I write this piece literally just stated, “Juneteenth is the celebration of the last state in the union to emancipate its slaves”. To the average American, Black or White, educated or not, almost every story or explanation you are likely to come across, with regards to Juneteenth, is either inaccurate, misleading, false, inundated with folklore, or lacking adequate historical context to a degree that it calls into question the underlying understanding of the story and meaning of Juneteenth itself.

Although, it is true that Juneteenth has historically been a celebration of the emancipation of enslaved Africans in America, it is not true nor historically accurate despite wide spread belief, to state that it is the celebration of the emancipation of the last enslaved Africans in America. Any statement to that effect is patently false, and indicates a miseducation or misunderstanding of Black/American history.

So then what in fact is Juneteenth?

Well, please allow me to explain the true history behind this newly popularized holiday.

The Civil war officially ended on April 9, 1865, following the surrender of general robert e. lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Which should have effectively freed all remaining enslaved Africans in America. However, slavery continued to be practiced in multiple states and location throughout the union. Including that of the state of Texas.

As, the famous story goes federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to bring news of the ending of the civil war and thus the emancipation of slavery. It was on the day of June 19, 1865, that General Gordon Granger read to the people of Galveston, General Order Number 3.

"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." Juneteenth.com*

Beginning on June 19,1867, formerly enslaved Africans, from the area, congregated together to commemorate the anniversary of the proclamation of their emancipation, and thus Juneteenth was born. Therefore, Juneteenth is indeed a celebration of freedom and emancipation, but that of those enslaved Africans in Texas, and not in celebration of the last enslaved Africans to be emancipated in America. In fact, the last enslaved Africans would not freed in this nation until at least 6 months later with the final ratification of the 13th Amendment.


The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes slavery except as punishment for crime, was passed by the Senate in April 1864, and subsequently by the House of Representatives in January 1865. However, the amendment would not take full effect until its ratification was finalized. In route to finalization, it was first fully ratified on December 6, 1865. On that date, all remaining enslaved Africans became, for all intents and purposes, free on paper, but still all were not free in practice. As there remained, enslaved Africans in multiple places including: Tennessee, Kentucky, Kansas, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, Washington, D.C., and twelve parishes of Louisiana. It was not until December 18, 1865, that the 13th Amendment went through final ratification. Thus, to enslaved Africans in America and their decedents true emancipation day or independence day would be more accurately celebrated on December 18th rather than June 19th.


So, although Juneteenth is commonly celebrated as Emancipation Day, additionally known as: Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Cel-Liberation Day, the truth is that slavery did not end in statute nor practice on June 19th 1865, as again that would not happen until December 18th of the same year.

Juneteenth may be the oldest recognized celebration of emancipation by formerly enslaved Africans in America, and has over the generation and years come to represent the jubilee of freedom, which is a beautiful thing and well worth and worthy of our collective reverence and celebration. Furthermore, just to be clear, attempting to devalue in any way, or make an argument that Juneteenth should not be celebrated is not the intention of this article. The intent of this article is to cast light on a true and accurate understanding of the history surrounding Juneteenth that is so obviously missing in this nation. In a nation so rampant with the spreading of dangerously inaccurate his-story and the miseducation of its citizenry with regards to ourstory. It is critical, as a nation, Black and White, that we have a historically accurate understandings of the proud, important, and critical history of enslaved Africans and their decedents in this nation.

So happy Juneteenth to all, and it is my sincere hope that this article helps to educate, clarify, and give proper historical context to this misunderstood celebration.

Note to Reader*: President Lincoln’s January 1, 1863, issuing of the emancipation proclamation was not overlooked in negligence, lack of academic due diligence, or as a result of a lack of through scholarship. It was purposefully omitted as, it is the belief of this author, that its issuance was out of military necessity, and done with the intention of reducing the strength of the traitorous Confederate forces they were battling for the reins of this nation. Since, it is the belief of this author that the emancipation proclamation was primarily a strategic tactic of war rather than a true instrument of emancipation and humanity, thus it is not critically germane to this historical exploration focused on the emancipation of enslaved Africans in America. So, for those specific reasons it was purposefully omitted.

Footnotes*

New York Times*- https://www.nytimes.com/article/juneteenth-day-celebration.html

Juneteenth.com*- https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm

© 2020 Ayende Alcala

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