I learned about Juneteenth from Ralph Ellison, the author of what I consider to be the greatest literary novel of the 20th century, Invisible Man. Juneteenth was the title of his posthumous second novel published in 1999. To say I was floored that this holiday was completely unknown to me but considered the Black “Fourth of July” seemed like I had been living in a bubble. I grew up in New York City, went to public school, and lived in a household that read three daily newspapers, but I had never even heard anyone speak about it.
Juneteenth, otherwise known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day. commemorates the day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger, along with 2,000 Union troops, rode into Galveston Bay, Texas to inform the enslaved Black people that they were free. However, they had already been freed by the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but no one had told them. In Texas, it is estimated that there were 250,000 people still enslaved after the end of the Civil War who were freed on this day.
Although Juneteenth has significant historical meaning for Black people in the U.S., it has special meaning to Black people in Texas and the larger Gulf Coast region. Emancipation Park in Houston’s Third Ward was founded by former slaves. Since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, this day and its popularity, have grown.
This Friday, June 19, will mark the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth.
Juneteenth became a Texas State holiday in 1980, but suddenly offices throughout New York, and the country, are sending out emails giving everyone Juneteenth off. Nike, Twitter, Target and US Bank announced that Juneteenth is now a store holiday. NY Governor Cuomo announced in his daily press conference on Wednesday that he would be giving state workers the day off and that he would propose making Juneteenth a state holiday. Same thing in Philadelphia and Virginia.
But is should be a national holiday. And it should have been a national holiday 155 years ago.
Just as we are toppling these racist Confederate statues, we really should right this wrong and make the day that commemorates the end of American’s worst sin a day of celebration and a day to remember so that we never forget.
Here’s a link to the history of the day, https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm.
But you might want to read Ellison’s novel as a tribute as well, https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0375707549?pf_rd_r=1JAGFTWN659B8GABX08V&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee