The Coast News Group
Juneteenth
Community CommentaryOpinion

Commentary: America’s other Independence Day

By Bhella Bell

When Union General Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas to announce the end of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed and already in effect for 6 months … AND TWO YEARS!

Backed by at least 1,200 blue coats, General Granger stalked through Galveston alerting the newly freed people of their victory mostly by first informing plantation owners that their human “property” no longer belonged to them.

Granger read the now famous “General Orders No. 3,” entitling all former slaves to the same rights and respect as their former slaveowners.

Some of the former slaves were elated, parading their freedom across the plains, northbound.

Others, just as jubilant, chose instead to seek out family members and remain local.

A few of them were awestruck and loitered about while still more, toiled the soil, cotton and cows the entire season without the awareness that they were free.

By most accounts, IT WAS A NEW DAY! “Juneteenth” (the portmanteau of “June” — the month the slaves were freed in Texas — and “teenth” — noting the nineteenth day of the month) became a day of celebration among African Americans in the United States.

The following December marked the official end of slavery when the 13th Amendment was ratified officially abolishing slavery in the United States of America.

Since the national liberation of slaves, many African Americans relocated from the likes of the southern Union states moving toward the outer reaches of the nation as the country expanded.

Although Texas was the last state to release its hold on slavery, it was the first state to acknowledge the eventual Emancipation with a day in its honor in 1980. 

Initially, Juneteenth was celebrated primarily by America’s more melanated population with pilgrimages back to Texas starting in 1866 one year after the slaves were told they were freed (not to be confused with the dates they were actually set free).

Despite the pushback by their Caucasian counterparts to regulate, rather, prevent the free men and women from public gatherings, events were held in locations of donated land or nearby churches.

Eventually, groups were able to raise enough funds to purchase their own land for the fêtes.

Parties were hosted by the newly independent people as well as their descendants.

Much of this revelry involved education about the way the independence was won, (involving many troops and help from the former slaves, the free Northerners and allies) information about the legacies of individuals from the African diaspora and food!

There was always an abundance of delicious food. Barbeque grilling and baseball were very popular activities.

The early years involved shows of lavish clothing worn as a backhand to the rags and rugged garbs strewn together during slavery.

Parades, rodeos and musical acts rounded out the soirées for several decades.

Juneteenth was meant as a time to focus on self-development, prayer, communing with family, and a remembrance of achievements prior to Juneteenth and thereafter.

Unfortunately, most descendants ceased the yearly celebration after a few generations. It was nearly 100 years before the communities revitalized the historical event.

In 1968, with the “Poor Man’s March on Washington,” what was originally known as “Jubilee Day”took form again.

Now, 45 states acknowledge Juneteenth. Distinguished institutions such as the Smithsonian and the Henry Ford Museum sponsor Juneteenth-centered functions in memorial of the historic date.

Juneteenth has yet to become a federal holiday but interest is gaining to grant America’s most disrespected people their very own independence day.

For more information on Juneteenth, updates and events are located on Juneteenth.com, the official website of Juneteenth.

Bhella Bell is an Artivist, (frequently) feeding her passion for performance art into socialcollaboration, love and what remains light-hearted.