Juneteenth in America
A once-obscure historical celebration of slavery's end is gaining traction as a national observance, and gaining supporters who want it declared the second Independence Day.
Six-year-old Amaya Haygood, dressed as a princess, waves to people along Raynor Avenue while riding in the South West Community Center’s Princess float in last year's Juneteenth Parade in Syracuse, N.Y. (© The Post-Standard /Landov)
It's that American holiday you don't hear much about, but for African Americans, it's a holiday that gives the other, more widely recognized ones meaning and resonance. Juneteenth--the name's a folksy portmanteau of "June" and "nineteenth" -- is celebrated throughout the United States, but especially in the state of Texas.
That's where, on June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Granger stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston and read General Order #3, a distillation of the Emancipation Proclamation enacted by President Lincoln in January 1863--two and a half years earlier. The order thereby freed the last remaining slaves in the United States, an estimated 250,000 people.
"The people 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 ..."
From General Order #3, read by Gen. Gordon Granger, June 19, 1865.
Juneteenth's role as an alternate national observance of identity has been gradually evolving. The actual celebration of Juneteenth as an event began not long after Granger's announcement. It was in and out of favor in the decades since--less so during the heated years of the civil rights movement, but more so in recent years. Now, 40 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as either a full day-off holiday or as an official observance--up from 25 states in 2007.
Fittingly, it's been a regional holiday staple in the American South for years, and a Texas state holiday since 1980. But while its profile has been generally growing in fits and starts, others have been more aggressive in working to have Juneteenth recognized officially--in effect, to have it acknowledged as the United States' second Independence Day.
The Juneteenth flag (Courtesy nationaljuneteenth.com)
"We are hopeful that Congress will finally enact legislation to establish the '19th of June' on all calendars as America's 2nd Independence Day," said Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., the founder and chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF). "We are not asking for a paid federal holiday, but a national day of observance, like Flag Day and Patriot Day," Myers said in a NJOF statement earlier this year.
Last September, Myers sent a letter to President Obama formally requesting a Juneteenth celebration at the White House, what would be the first in the nation's history.
"As the leader of our country, your public participation in Juneteenth will be instrumental in bringing all Americans together in a spirit of unity and reconciliation."