While Juneteenth 2020 will be a massive celebration in the United States this year, some Americans are not even familiar with the holiday. Some of our favorite celebrities intend to remedy that with an enormous party on Friday, complete with performances and nationwide broadcasts. The holiday carries vast significance for American historians and particularly Black Americans, but this year the celebrations will extend further into mainstream discourse amid ongoing protests in the U.S. demurring racism and police brutality.
June 19 marks the anniversary of the day that all the slaves in Texas were freed — one of the last and greatest mass emancipations. Juneteenth is broadly considered the anniversary of the end of slavery, though the details of the date itself can teach us a lot of little-known information about the American Civil War. The holiday is widely celebrated in specific communities and particular parts of the country, but this year, entertainers like John Legend and Alicia Keys are helping to make sure that Juneteenth gets the nationwide attention it deserves.
Juneteenth 2020 coincides with some of the most widespread civil rights protests and demonstrations the U.S. has ever seen. Following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and other Black Americans at the hands of police, the Black Lives Matter movement has seen a resurgence in major cities all over the country. It is also accomplishing more of its goals than ever before while holding attention on the national stage.
Accordingly, Juneteenth will be a big deal this year — even with the coronavirus pandemic still raging and much of the country on stay-at-home orders. Keys and Legend will hold a "battle of the pianos" on Verzuz's Instagram Live stream, and AMC's Sherman's Showcase is airing a "Black History Month Spectacular." Some Americans will need to brush up on history fast to understand why all this is going on. Here's a breakdown of the burgeoning holiday Juneteenth.
Any history buff will point out that Juneteenth does not fall on the same day that President Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation — Jan. 1, 1863. Sadly, that is part of the significance of the holiday. Despite Lincoln's proclamation, the Union could not enforce the end of slavery until it had defeated the Confederacy, reaching the furthest-south state, Texas, last. It was on June 19, 1865 that Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, announced the end of the Civil War, and forced slaveholders to free their slaves via an executive order.
"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," read Granger's proclamation. "The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
The fact that the last slaves were freed two and a half years after their freedom became law is a part of Juneteenth, and an often-overlooked aspect of American history.prevnext
Juneteenth has been celebrated to varying degrees since 1865 — as discussed below — but there is definitely increased visibility on the holiday this year compared to more recent years. In part, that's because of the widespread Black Lives Matter demonstrations, which have now spread beyond even the U.S.
Juneteenth came into the news, even more, when President Donald Trump announced his intention to host a campaign rally on that day in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the site the 1921 Race Massacre, which is considered one of the worst acts of racial terrorism in world history. Critics thought that the timing and location must be intentional, especially since the Tulsa bombings were brought back into the public consciousness late last year in the HBO series Watchmen.
Eventually, Trump agreed to reschedule his event, but the discourse had already begun. Now, communities that typically celebrate Juneteenth quietly amongst themselves are calling on the rest of the country to observe the holiday with them and learn more about Black history to better assist Black Americans in the present.prevnext
How to Observe
This year, observances of Juneteenth are expected to be mostly symbolic and low-key because of the coronavirus pandemic. Activists are calling on the public to donate to or promote nonprofits and charities such as the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, The Bail Project or the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. They are also asking people to sign and share a massive Change.org petition calling on government leaders to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
Beyond that, people will need to celebrate at home. It is easier than ever to do so through entertainment, including Legend and Keys' broadcast on Instagram or AMC's broadcast on cable. Netflix has also assembled a Black Lives Matter collection, showcasing content from Black creators about Black issues, and providing some invaluable education tools for those a little rusty on Black history.prevnext
93-year-old Opal Lee is a relentless champion for making Juneteenth a national holiday. Sign her petition here: https://t.co/q3ZyAzJNKj— Change.org (@Change) June 15, 2020
Many advocates believe that this year will finally be the year that Juneteenth gains recognition a a legitimate national holiday. It has been an uphill battle state by state — even Texas did not declare the date a holiday until 1980. Since then, 47 states have followed suit, and with the momentum of the current push for civil rights and police reform, many believe it can be accomplished on a national scale this year.
"I believe Juneteenth can be a unifier because it recognizes that slaves didn't free themselves and that they had help, from Quakers along the Underground Railroad, abolitionists both black and white like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, soldiers and many others who gave their lives for the freedom of the enslaved," reads the petition, written by 93-year-old Texas resident Opal Lee.prevnext
In the Media
For many people, the term Juneteenth might call to mind a recent movie, TV episode, or another piece of media, as the holiday has been getting more and more attention onscreen. One of the most popular examples is a Season 1 episode of Atlanta, where Earn (Donald Glover) and Vanessa (Zazie Beatz) attend a Juneteenth party at an affluent friend's house.
There was also an episode of Black-ish that centered around Juneteenth in Season 4, with the family vying to make the holiday a bigger deal to the country at large. These shows managed to mix education with narrative, putting Juneteenth front and center in the public consciousness.prevnext
There is plenty of other, more education-oriented media surrounding Juneteenth. Recent popular examples include the PBS series Juneteenth Jamboree, highlighting the holiday's importance to Black communities and how they celebrate. Meanwhile, this year will see the release of a new movie called Miss Juneteenth, about a beauty pageant held on the holiday. It will be released in digital stores on Friday.prevnext
As they seek official recognition, observers of Juneteenth need no help in celebrating the holiday. Unofficial celebrations have taken place since 1865, with traditions including modified Independence Day festivities, cook-outs, and concerts. In many cases, the occasion was used to promote political rallies, where Black Americans shared resources on their newly won right to vote.prevnext
The history of Juneteenth is long and proud, making it that much more surprising that it took so long for the holiday to get any official recognition. In 1979, freshman Democratic state Rep. Al Edwards introduced a law making Juneteenth an official state holiday, noting that it is a "holiday of significance [...] particularly to the blacks of Texas." This spurred increased celebrations of the day in other parts of the country, pressuring officials there to do the same.0comments
By 2002, eight states had recognized Juneteenth in some form. By 2008, nearly half of the states had done the same. Today, the only states that do not recognize Juneteenth as a holiday are Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota.
still, the battle for recognition on the federal level has been slow. The first legislation to make Juneteenth a holiday was introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1996. The issue has been on the back burner ever since, but many hope that 2020 will be its year.prev