Guest blogger Emily Loveland shares with us the history and importance of Juneteenth, and where to find our local celebrations here in Madison. Take it away, Emily!
Here at RISE nothing is more important than community. We strive to nourish our community to bloom into a healthy, inclusive and harmonious environment, but with that comes responsibility. Our mission is to advance the wellness of children, individuals, and families by providing early childhood and mental health services to help our community and the families within to thrive and part of that is raising awareness. It’s always important to remember how we got here and that includes the good and the bad. There is no omitting history, no matter how shameful, but from these egregious mistakes we must grow and take time for self-awareness and reflection. With that being said, we would like to share the importance of Juneteenth.
In middle school you learned about Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and you may remember learning it as the document that freed all slaves. But we know that’s not really how it happened. The country was in the middle of the Civil War and the states that had already succeeded didn’t have to follow Lincoln’s executive order; they continued the cruel and barbaric practices of slavery. As the war for freedom raged on for another 2 years, the Union continued to push Confederates further West and that’s how Juneteenth was born.
On June 19th, 1865 General Granger and his Union soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas declaring the war was over and that all those enslaved were now free. Again, freedom wasn’t immediate and the former slave owners actually had the power to decide when they would announce the news. Of course, many waited to announce the news while horrifically terrorizing many former slaves to the point where they feared to act on their freedom. However, their incessant bullying and scare tactics couldn’t stand up to the perseverance and courage of those who would not be denied their liberty. Instead of letting the former slave owners make June 19th into a day of confusion and terror they took it for themselves as a day of celebration and freedom, making Juneteenth the oldest celebration honoring the end of slavery.
In the early years of Juneteenth, the celebrations mainly took place in rural areas and churches, since the former slave owners still outwardly resisted the celebration. The celebration usually consisted of the traditional BBQ pit, prayers, readings, fishing and other outdoor activities. As the celebration grew bigger and as more African Americans accrued wealth, some bought land in the name of Juneteenth. Reverend Jack Yates purchased land which became Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas and another Juneteenth organization bought Booker T. Washington Park in 1898. The celebration grew so large that over 20,000 people came through Booker T. Washington Park to be a part of the celebration.
Unfortunately, in the early 1900s Juneteenth saw a decline in participation. African American kids began attending schools, instead of the enriched traditional home schooling they received. School books wrote that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was the end of slavery, leaving Juneteenth out as an important stepping stone in our history. Adding to this cultural tide change, there was a giant economic factor contributing to the decline in the Juneteenth celebration: The Great Depression. More and more people had to move from farms to cities to find jobs and many employers wouldn’t give their employees the time off to celebrate. It seemed that Juneteenth would be forgotten, but the Civil Rights Movement helped revive this crucial celebration. This is in large part thanks to an Atlanta Civil Rights campaign and the Poor People’s March on Washington D.C. Both gathered massive groups of people marching for change, justice and a better future.
Juneteenth is now a state holiday in 41 states and is thriving in more and more communities and organizations. More people, institutions and organizations are coming together to commemorate and revere the struggles and triumphs of African American history. Juneteenth is about never forgetting, speaking up and above all a national day of pride and resistance.
This Juneteenth there is an unveiling of a Frederick Douglass statue in the U.S. Capital Visitor Center where he will be joining Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King Jr. If you would like to celebrate here in Madison there is a Juneteenth Day Observance held at the state capitol at noon and a Juneteenth Gala at the Concourse Hotel at 7 p.m. For more Juneteenth celebrations, please visit www.kujimcsd.org.