What is Juneteenth and what’s the meaning behind it?

Urban lore has it that the term “Don’t shoot the messenger,” was derived from unsuccessful attempts to deliver word of the Emancipation Proclamation – freeing enslaved people – nationwide.

June 19th – 1865 looms large in the history of Blacks because it commemorates the day Union General Gordon Granger rode to Galveston, Texas and announced to the crowd, “In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln in January of 1863 it literally took a federal order to ensure the message was delivered. 

Summarily, Juneteenth is a portmanteau of June and 19. Prior to June 2021 (when the US Congress voted to make it a federal holiday) Juneteenth was primarily celebrated in the southern portion of the United States. 

For more than 150 years, traditional Juneteenth celebrations have largely been organized around picnics and family gatherings that reflect on the broken shackles of the past and the ability to rejoice in the present. As Juneteenth spread outside Texas, celebrations were expanded and diversified to emphasize education and achievement with programs featuring entertainment and guest speakers.

Historical Context

The bible documents the inhumanity of people who have been enslaving people since the beginning of time. Yet the 1700’s slavery was industrialized to form the economic foundation of America. Africans were prime targets, simply due to the ease of identification based on skin color. Based on physical appearance alone, African Americans were forced to learn the language systems and culture of colonizers. It was a recipe for discrimination that has been baked into society, feeding unhealthy does of hatred and vitriol for centuries.

Interestingly, the Civil War resulted from economic and political shifts in power. This was the true source of the rift between the northern and southern states. It would be folly to assume that the Civil War was predicated by the freedom of slaves. Biographical depictions of Lincoln have proven slavery was leveraged to break the back of the south. In fact, slavery was abolished in January 1863. Regardless, Blacks remained enslaved for two and half more years until June 19, 1865. This blatant injustice is the reason Juneteenth is celebrated on that date. It is rumored that the phrase “Don’t shoot the messenger,” stemmed from reports of mail carriers who were dispatched to deliver the news, being shot on site. It took a federal edit and soldiers being sent to Galveston, Texas to finally enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

On the heels of four hundred years of slavery, America implemented Jim Crow laws from 1877 through 1950 that intentionally institutionalized racism, weaving it into laws education and housing systems as well as in the dis-equitable distribution of resources. After 1960, a non-violent revolution spearheaded by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s unified American’s nationwide to acknowledge and combat the pervasive problem of racism. President Nixon gave license to Affirmative Action in the 1970’s only to have it dismantled starting in the Regan years. 

Fast forward to 2020, and mounting protests that called attention to the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery ripped the scab of racism off, exposing a festering wound that America seems ill-equipped to heal.

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