The History and Importance of Juneteenth

The History and Importance of Juneteenth

Mikayla Schwartz, Contributing Writer

June 19 marks a federal holiday—the holiday known as Juneteenth.  However, many people do not know the details or origin of this holiday, or why it is celebrated.  According to History.com, Juneteenth has been cited as a holiday that honors “the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday.”  Juneteenth only became an official federal holiday last year on June 17, 2021. 

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, stated that those enslaved within the Confederate States would be free.  In reality, though, the Emancipation Proclamation did not mean that the people enslaved instantly became free.   The date June 19 actually celebrates the day in 1865 that Union General Gordon Granger set foot in Galveston, Texas to officially inform enslaved African-Americans that they were free. This day is regarded as the official day of emancipation, even though the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued nearly two years priorand many slaves wouldn’t actually be freed until some time later.  The holiday name, Juneteenth, derives from the combination of the word “June” and “nineteen.” 

The celebration of Juneteenth has evolved throughout the years.  According to Juneteenth.com, which tracks the celebration, the holiday was first celebrated by families gathering and praying together.  Since there was also some exhibited resistance towards the holiday, those celebrating would commonly gather together in rural areas.  As time continued and African-Americans became landowners, land was often bought and used specifically to celebrate Juneteenth.  The largest example of this would be Booker T. Washington Park, which, following its purchase by Reverend Jack Yates, became the official Juneteenth celebration sight in 1898.  In the early 1900s, Juneteenth celebrations began to dwindle, due to classrooms and textbooks discouraging the discussion of the history of those formerly enslaved.  Despite this, the celebrations experienced a resurgence in the 1950s and 1960s, amid the Civil Rights movement. 

On Jan. 1, 1980, Juneteenth officially became a state holiday in Texas.  As reported by the New York Times on June 17, 2021, Juneteenth “became the eleventh holiday recognized by the federal government.  The Senate on June 15 passed a bill to recognize the day, and the House approved the measure the next day.  President Biden signed the bill into law the day after that, immediately giving federal employees the day off this year.” 

Today, the holiday’s celebration continues to grow-–institutions such as the Henry Ford Museum and the Smithsonian have sponsored Juneteenth-centered activities and celebrations.  Many states, especially Texas, hold parades and festivals in which people are encouraged to learn about the history of enslaved people in the United States.  Further, many people celebrate by simply seeing family and friends and having barbecues. 

“The history behind the creation of Juneteenth is important to learn about, and it is even more important that the communities to which it applies are given the opportunity to celebrate it,” said junior Emily Bersin. 

There are various things Port Washington residents can do to celebrate Juneteenth.  There is a Juneteenth Cultural Celebration on June 19 in Hicksville, a Juneteenth Celebration occurring in Elmont, as well as various celebrations and events happening in New York City, like the Juneteenth Rooftop Celebration at Harbor NYC Rooftop.  Most important, however, is for all Port Washington residents to take a second to read about and educate themselves about the history of this holiday, and the wrongful experiences of former slaves in this country. 

“It should definitely be spoken about more, especially in classroom environments like Social Studies classes.  I only learned about it last year, and I wish I had known sooner.  Education about topics like these are really important,” said junior Rianna Baecher.