SATURDAY, JUNE 19: Read Maya Angelo, enjoy some traditional Southern cooking and sing aloud today as the United States marks Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of slavery’s end in America. (Get the scoop at Juneteenth.com.) The holiday doesn’t mark the Emancipation Proclamation itself; instead, this holiday recalls the date, more than two years later, when slaves in Texas were finally freed and Confederates were forced to recognize the Proclamation. On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops reached Galveston, Texas, to enforce emancipation; on June 19, Granger read aloud the contents of “General Order No.3.”
Today, 36 states and the District of Columbia observe Juneteenth as a state holiday. While many across the nation barbecue, hold small street fairs and gather with family, the biggest celebrations are still found in Texas. (Look for an event in your area with this interactive map, from Juneteenth.com. Or, cook up some soul food with suggestions from AllRecipes.)
Within a few years of Order No.3, records show that former slaves were purchasing land in Texas specifically to accommodate crowds at growing Juneteenth celebrations. (Emancipation parks are still thriving in the state today. Find out more at Wikipedia.) Perhaps most importantly, Americans are encouraged to become educated on African-American history today. This year, leaders of the National Campaign to Establish Juneteenth as a National Holiday will be urging President Barack Obama to get behind the movement.
Preserving these traditions and fueling the movement to enshrine the holiday nationally are high priorities for many leaders from African-American churches. The National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council elaborates on this theme. Even during slavery, the faithful knew that God saw all as equal. Today, traditional prayers and gospel music are essential elements at many celebrations.
(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)
(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)