By Jan Norwood
Americans look forward to celebrating the Fourth of July every year. It is a reminder to all Americans of our independence and freedom. June 19th or Juneteenth is that day for African Americans.
On June 19, 1865, Union general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and issued General Order Number 3. The order stated, "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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” (Acosta)
In the months following the end of the Civil War, over 250,000 slaves in Texas heard the good news of their freedom from their owners. Upon hearing the news, many personal celebrations ensued and over the years grew into festivities organized by official Juneteenth committees.
Juneteenth has been called the oldest African American holiday. The celebrations in the past and present included religious services, readings, picnicking, and inspirational speeches. The Emancipation Proclamation was and is commonly read to kick off Juneteenth celebrations. Stories from formerly enslaved people were told. To accompany these powerful stories, the hymn “Lift Every Voice” was sung to reinforce the meaning of the festivities. Jazz and blues have also played a part in the holiday. Participants in the holiday used clothing to show the difference between their lives as enslaved people and as free people. African Americans donned brightly colored clothing to honor their ancestors.
Rev. Ronald V. Myers Sr., founder and chairman of the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign and the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, asked previous presidents to issue a presidential proclamation to establish Juneteenth as a national day of Observance in America. Finally, on June 17, 2021, Juneteenth was officially recognized as a Federal Holiday, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. President Biden stated:
“...we must understand that Juneteenth represents not only the commemoration of the end of slavery in America more than 150 years ago, but the ongoing work to have to bring true equity and racial justice into American society, which we can do.
“In short, this day doesn’t just celebrate the past; it calls for action today.”
Let us find ways to support and celebrate Juneteenth by buying products and services from businesses owned by African Americans. We hope this article serves as a reminder of the enormity for such an historic event and that we will all do our part to embrace history while changing the future.
Here is a list of eight directories to assist you with locating African American owned businesses in your area.
Teresa Palomo Acosta, “Juneteenth,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 23, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/juneteenth. Published by the Texas State Historical Association
Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "The History of Juneteenth Celebrations." ThoughtCo, Jun. 18, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-juneteenth-and-why-is-it-celebrated-2834603.