What is June 17 and why is it a public holiday?

If July 4, 1776 marked the first day of the country’s independence, it was not until almost a century later, on June 19, 1865, that the United States could truly be considered a free country. Since then, Juneteenth – or Juneteenth, for short – has commemorated the end of slavery in the United States and freedom for citizens of all races.

What does June 19 celebrate?

Juneteenth celebrates the second Independence Day in the United States, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). It is a holiday commemorating the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of black Americans, according to “A Proclamation of the Nineteenth Day of Observance” from the White House.

Fannie Lou Hameran influential civil rights activist, once said, “No one is free until everyone is free” – a quote that Jennifer Braden, M.Ed., JD echoes.

Braden is an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Coordinator for the Office of General Counsel and Compliance at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

For citizens who share Hamer’s belief, Braden said June 19 celebrates Freedom Day, sometimes also called Emancipation Day.

The story of Juneteenth

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all people held as slaves would henceforth be free. Two years later, on January 31, 1865, the 13th Amendment was passed by Congress. It wasn’t until that summer, on June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers finally arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, with news of freedom, according to the NMAAHC.

Dr. Kendra Thomassenior director of human experience and belonging at SNHU as well as a practitioner of belonging and joy, said she first learned about Juneteenth and its story when she was 16 years old.

“I went to a Juneteenth festival and learned that slaves in Galveston, Texas, did not learn of their freedom until two years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect,” she said. -she declared.

Braden noted that the Emancipation Proclamation was largely symbolic and did not truly mark the end of slavery. Although Juneteenth was ultimately celebrated as the start of emancipation, some people in the United States also remained enslaved beyond June 19, 1865.

Misconceptions about the seventeenth month

Although June 16 marks Emancipation Day, Braden said slavery persisted in Delaware and Kentucky, which did not have state laws abolishing the institution of slavery. It was not until the 13th Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865 – six months after Union troops reached Galveston, Texas, on June 16 – that emancipation took effect in these states.

Yet for herself and many others, Braden said Juneteenth was the quintessential holiday celebrating American freedom.

“I think a common misconception about Juneteenth is that it was the end of history,” said Tiffany Flowersfinancial advisor at SNHU and manager of the BLAZE (Black Leaders Aspiring to Zealously Elevate) employee resource group.

Flowers also highlighted the language of the 13th Amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime of which the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist in the United States,” the president said. Abraham Lincoln.

According to Flowers, this warning led to exploitative policing and new laws that kept the practice of slavery alive, with effects that can still be seen and felt today.

“For black people, I think it’s going to be a long time until we can get equal treatment in the justice system,” Flowers said. “It’s still going to be a struggle, but in the midst of it, we can still have joy. We may still have time to celebrate.

Is Juneteenth a federal holiday?

Juneteenth is now a federal holiday that celebrates one of the most important events in U.S. history: the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of Black Americans, according to the White House proclamation.

“Juneteenth makes me so proud of my ethnic identity as a Black American, my national identity as an American citizen, and my status as a native Texan,” Braden said. “This makes me particularly proud because it was one of the first American holidays created by Black Americans – after Memorial Day, formerly Decoration Day.”

Yet despite its importance, Juneteenth only became a federal holiday a few years ago, in 2021.

What took so long?

According to Braden, the Juneteenth celebration has had its ups and downs over the years, and the holiday hasn’t always been as well known as it is today.

“I think 2020 marked the beginning of a period where, as a country, we were called to be more honest about American truths, and officially recognizing the significance of Juneteenth on a national level was an digestible way to do it,” Braden said.

It was around this time that Flowers herself first heard about this holiday.

“June 16 is a new thing, even for me. I grew up in Alabama and I wasn’t taught much about Juneteenth,” Flowers said. “But as I got older and the law was passed, I started to become more aware.”

Credited Flowers Opal Lee — who is often called the grandmother of Juneteenth, according to PBS — with her campaigning and advocacy for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday.

Thomas also recognized another reason why Juneteenth took so long to become a public holiday: It all depends on who holds and has held power.

“I cannot speak for the mindset of those who willingly took away the freedoms of others and who continue to harm so many people today,” Thomas said.

Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth

Juneteenth has been commemorated in various ways over the years.

“Early celebrations of the holiday consisted of picnics, parades, and religious and community events that capitalized on the Black American oral tradition,” Braden said. “Similarly, modern celebrations retain all these characteristics. »

As for her own celebrations, Braden said red drinks are traditional for the holiday and she often enjoyed a Big Red on Juneteenth – a regional Texas soda.

Flowers likes to support Black businesses on and around Juneteenth — although she said that extends outside of the holiday as well.

“I think it’s really important to try to get those dollars flowing,” she said. “And it gives me a chance to find new favorite things.”

Flowers also enjoys volunteering on Juneteenth, and this year she plans to set aside time for something different: rest and time for self-care.

“I think we’re so focused on work and actions and getting our bodies involved in action that we don’t recognize that maybe one of the great things about Juneteenth was that people had a chance to to rest as they had done. “I hadn’t,” she said.

In addition to being a day of celebration, Juneteenth is also a day of reflection for many. For Thomas and his family, it is a day of remembrance and recognition. “It’s the joy of knowing that we can do so much as a people, while reflecting on the heartache caused by slavery,” she said.

No matter who you are or what your relationship is to the holiday, Braden said Juneteenth deserves to be recognized and observed in some way.

“Sometimes people feel like Juneteenth and other cultural traditions rooted in Black America are niche interests that only concern Black people,” she said. “When people adopt this attitude, they miss out on some of the best things America has to offer.”

March Girolimon ’21 ’23G is an editor at Southern New Hampshire University, where they earned their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English and creative writing. In addition to their work in higher education, Girolimon’s short fiction has appeared in the North American Review, So It Goes by The Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library, XRAY and more. They are currently writing their first novel, which was shortlisted for the First Pages Prize. Connect with them on LinkedIn.

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