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Juneteenth: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About The Holiday

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Picture of the first Juneteenth celebration, Emancipation Day

Juneteenth is the celebration of the end of slavery and the freeing of black people in America. Although the holiday is as old as the end of slavery, it is not a well known one, especially outside of the Black community. 

Chances are, you have heard of Juneteenth by now, but we will take you deeper into this holiday with these 5 things you might not have heard of.

Here are 5 things you might not know about Juneteenth.

1. There was a two year delay between Emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth

President Lincoln is famous for the Emancipation Proclamation, a presidential proclamation and executive order that was issued on September 22, 1862 that freed more than 3.5 million enslaved blacks in America. But since America was in the middle of the civil war over slavery, it meant slaves that were under the control of the confederacy remained slaves.  They had to either wait until Union troops took over their area to be freed or ran away across the Union lines. 

Many slaves ran away and crossed over to the Union side once hearing the news of this proclamation. However, that decision came at a deadly cost to those that could not safely cross over. 

General Robert E Lee surrendered his confederate troops on April 9th, 1865 That marked the beginning of the end of the four year long civil war.

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Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed in Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865 with the news that the war had ended. That meant all slaves were free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation. 

The following is an excerpt from a New York Times article from 1865;

“GENERAL ORDERS, No. 3. — 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.

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.

By command of Maj.-Gen. GRANGER.”

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2. Juneteenth is a state holiday in 47 states 

Juneteenth is not a federal holiday yet. But did you know it’s a state holiday in 47 states and in the District of Columbia? Texas was the first state to recognize the holiday in 1980.

The three states that do not recognize the holiday are North Dakota, South Dakota, and Hawaii.  

Opal Lee, a 93 year old activist and Texan has been campaigning to make Juneteenth a national holiday. In 2016, at the age of 89, she decided to walk from her home in Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., in an effort to get Juneteenth named a national holiday.

Opal traveled two and a half miles each day. That symbolizes the two and a half year gap between the emancipation proclamation and the freeing of all slaves. 


3. There is a Juneteenth flag

The Juneteenth flag is red, white and blue, though it is constructed differently than the red, white, and blue you’re used to seeing. 

The flag has one bursting star and is the brainchild of activist Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation. Haith created the flag in 1997 with the help of collaborators, and Boston-based illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf brought their vision to life.

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In 2000, the flag was revised to the version we see today. Seven years later, the date June 19th, 1865 was added to the flag. The lone star represents both Texas, where the last of slaves were freed, and the freeing of slaves in all 50 states. 

The curve that extends across the width of the flag represents a new horizon and The red, white and blue represents the American flag, a reminder that slaves and their descendants were and are Americans.

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4. Juneteenth celebration had lasting effect on Black culture

During celebrations of Juneteenth, a range of activities were provided for entertainment. Many of these traditions still continue today in black culture.

For example, barbecuing, or cookouts, became popular in black culture during the era when Juneteenth was celebrated widely in black societies. Soul food was served.  

The dress code was also taken very seriously in early celebrations of Juneteenth. During slavery there were laws in the books in many areas that prohibited or limited the dressing of the enslaved. Therefore, on Juneteenth, black society showed up to celebrations dressed in their best outfits. 

5. Juneteenth celebrations Were Illegal in some places

In some cities, black people were barred from using public parks to celebrate Juneteenth because of state-sponsored segregation of facilities. In response,  freed slaves in parts of Texas put their funds together to purchase land to hold their celebrations.

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Black leaders in Texas raised $1,000 to purchase 10 acres of land to celebrate Juneteenth in 1872. Today, that park is known as Emancipation Park in Houston. 

An estimated 30,000 black people celebrated the holiday at Booker T. Washington Park in Limestone county, Texas, in 1898, a park established for the Juneteenth celebrations.