History

It's Time to Celebrate Juneteenth, America's Other Independence Day

Though Juneteenth is first and foremost a celebration of the end of slavery, the day has evolved in the 21st century.

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On June 19, 1865, nearly 20,000 troops led by Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. Granger read from Order No. 3, which informed the people of Texas that the remaining 250,000 slaves were to be freed and could begin working for wages. These slaves were among the very last in the country to hear the news of their freedom, two years after President Abraham Lincoln read his Emancipation Proclamation. The news was met with celebration across the state.

From that day forth, the day and its yearly celebrations were remembered as Juneteenth, America's other independence day.

Though Juneteenth is first and foremost a celebration of freedom, the day has taken on new challenges in the 21st century.

Young black Americans are encouraged by their elders to remember their history and respect the harsh circumstances that defined their origins. There is an understanding that if history dies in a generation, it runs the risk of being lost forever. Younger generations have not only accepted this charge but are actively trying to make these stories part of the mainstream American narrative.

This is best portrayed in the 2017 Juneteenth episode of ABC's Black-ish. Andre Johnson, portrayed by Anthony Anderson, attempts to teach his coworkers and family the significance of Juneteenth. Johnson and his family encounter some frustration as they realize that there is very little knowledge about—and interest in—Juneteenth. At one point, the show even commentates that Irish Americans don't have to beg other Americans to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

By the end of the episode, the Johnsons decide to celebrate Juneteenth by throwing a cookout, as they would do on the Fourth of July. There is some small hope that by normalizing celebrations of the holiday and teaching its importance whenever possible, others will come to see why it is deserving of more recognition.

Juneteenth will similarly be celebrated throughout the week with cookouts, parades, and other parties in various cities across America, as has been done in the past. Several individual states continue to make official declarations to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday. But there's a desire among some celebrants for Juneteenth to be even bigger.

Many hope to make it a national holiday; the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation has started several petitions to reach that very goal.

It's not a crazy thought. Juneteenth has already reached the White House, with Presidents Trump and Obama giving statements each year to commemorate the occasion.

So why is there such a push to make Juneteenth mainstream?

Frederick Douglass answers this question best in his 1852 speech, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" Less than 100 years after Thomas Jefferson declared that "all men are created equal," Douglass questioned the "national inconsistencies" of Independence Day. A former slave himself, Douglass confronts the clear hypocrisy of white Americans celebrating values like liberty and freedom at the same time an entire enslaved population existed among them.

Never shying from his blunt style, Douglass offers the following:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Today's Juneteenth observers feel similarly. If many so readily observe a day where freedom was granted to some, why wouldn't they want to also celebrate a holiday that recognizes the day freedom was granted to all?

There are those who won't see the importance of recognizing such a day and those who will read this and look for the closest celebration. It is the hope of today's Juneteenth observers that those who hear of the holiday, or any other important date in black history for that matter, both recognize the significance and accept it easily as American history like any other event that occurred on this land.

NEXT: We're at the 'Concentration Camp Semantics' Stage of 2019 Now

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  1. *Yawn*

    1. Douglas expressed some legitimate gripes in 1852.
      In 1865, after the deaths of more than 360,000 Union troops and more than one million more wounded, I do not think Douglas could have the same gripes.
      Neither the slaves nor their descendants have erected a monument to the sacrifices of the Union troops. Where is the gratitude?

  2. At one point, the show even commentates that Irish Americans don’t have to beg other Americans to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

    How many know what St. Patrick’s Day commemorates? Other than green beer (and eventual green vomit).

    1. He drove the Moops out of Ireland, right?

      1. That was a misprint!

        It was Ineland.

    2. One of the more confusing things about America to the Irish (those people who actually live in Ireland) is our Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations.

    3. Does Juneteenth traditionally involve imbibing mass quantities of booze?

      That might be the heart of the matter.

      1. Right? St Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo only work because everybody gets puke drunk. If anybody less important than good Anglo-Germanic people wants us to celebrate their lame holiday, there better be a hell of a lot of drinking!

    4. If “other Americans” celebrated Juneteenth, they’d be accused of cultural misappropriation.

  3. Wait until it goes all commercial, then decide if it was worth promoting.

    “Break the chains of high prices at Bob’s Superstore”

    “Come on down to Big Jim’s Cars – if you buy your car anywhere else, you’ll get sold down the river”

    1. dude. funny.

    2. Prices low, for a sweet Pontiac
      Coming on down and we’ll carry you home
      Prices low, for a sweet Pontiac
      Coming on down and we’ll carry you home

    3. Come in and enjoy our Starbucks Juneteenth Coffee – Plucked from the African jungle, brought here in the cargo hold of a trade ship, and sold from one white person to another. Visit our new location next to Bigger Jim’s Used Cars.

  4. sure, whatevs i’m down. thought it was just a Texas thing.

    Blackish is not funny. mho.

    1. I hope people aren’t getting History lessons from Black-ish

  5. I’d be willing to bet that the same peeps wanting reparations from slavery have no clue about Juneteenth or celebrate it in any way.

  6. Douglass should be on Mount Rushmore and on the $20 bill (too bad he didn’t identify as a woman).

    1. Yes, and Pennsylvania Ave renamed after Harriet Tubman.

    2. Don’t forget Booker T. Washington, one of the greatest Americans of all time!! I wonder what he would have said about making this a holiday!

      “There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”

      “I am afraid that there is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public.”
      -Booker T. Washington, “My Larger Education”, 1911

      1. Washington always seemed like the better of the various black folks we’re supposed to be impressed by. He believed in hard work and personal responsibility to the hilt.

  7. Yeah, let’s make a race based holiday and further embed that idiotic concept into our cultural narrative.

    1. Are you implying that people of all colors can’t celebrate freeing of the slaves?

      1. White people can never understand, so they shouldn’t celebrate. Just shut up and get out of the way. And reparations.

        1. But, will it stop after 40 acres and a mule? Or, will we continue to hear about all the unfairness and how that doesn’t make up for slavery? Even though my ancestors didn’t arrive here until slavery was abolished?

          Yeah, I know. I’m a victim of white privilege.

          1. The few branches of my family that didn’t arrive after slavery were all prudish northerners, and owned no slaves.

            Out of all my recent ancestors, the only ones who had any real chance that they owned slaves were my NATIVE AMERICAN ONES, since they loved them some slaves! How funny is that?

    2. It’s a shame that it probably would end up as something about race rather than an opportunity for everyone to commemorate and celebrate the abolition of slavery.
      Thousands of people finally being told “you’re free” seems like something worthy of being commemorated and celebrated.

    3. Yeah, let’s make a race based holiday and further embed that idiotic concept into our cultural narrative.

      They really need to do away with some of the other holidays. I’d guess Kwanzaa is about 33% responsible for the lack of adoption of Juneteenth.

    4. Yes but, after an assembly in high school celebrating black history month, a favored teacher, in response to a question about the lack of a white history month responded, “every month is white history month!”

      Ever since I’ve dedicated myself to getting racial tit-for-rat out of our report.

  8. The reason people like celebrating St. Paddy’s Day or Cinco de Mayo is because the whole purpose of those holidays is to eat lots of food, get plastered, and have a big party.

    (Besides, who wouldn’t want to celebrate beating up on the French?)

    Aside from the prospect of killer BBQ, there is nothing about Juneteenth that would attract the average person. It is day where woke Left-wing scolds rehash old grievances for past sins that no living American had anything to do with, and then demand political solutions that no one supports.

    I would be like setting up a dinner date with your ex-wife and allowing her to explain the many reasons why she hates you: no matter how good the restaurant or the music, its not worth the hassle.

    1. Considering the woke opinion on cultural appropriation, it might not even be that fun.

    2. Lots of living Americans share responsibility for legal policies enforcing racial segregation.

      1. they’re not invited.

      2. You mean the diversity staff at UC Berkeley?

      3. Really? Who?

        The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. Anyone responsible for actually enforcing racial segregation laws would have had to be at least adult and more likely middle-aged. Based on 2016 data (the last I could find that looked reliable), there were 35.8 million people alive who were born in or before 1946 (18 year olds). But many of them have died in the three years since. Extrapolating from death rates, there are about 27.5 million people alive today who were 18 or older when the CRA was passed – about 8% of the population. Most 18 year olds were not in a position to enforce anything.

        Running the same numbers for those who were 40 or older when the CRA was passed, there were just under 2 million alive in 2016 but extrapolating death rates, there are probably only 800,000 alive today – 0.3% of the total US population. And even assuming they were old enough, the vast majority of those would never have been in a position to enforce segregation, much less inclined to do so.

        So are there some living Americans who were responsible for legally enforcing segregation? Probably. Lots of them? No.

        1. shorter nonvite list great.

          1. Regardless, segregation isn’t slavery. Not by a long shot.

            1. Like it or not, true freedom of association, including private businesses choosing not to serve certain people… It’s called FREEDOM of association for a reason.

    3. I would be like setting up a dinner date with your ex-wife and allowing her to explain the many reasons why she hates you

      This sounds more like Festivus.

    4. “It is day where woke Left-wing scolds rehash old grievances for past sins that no living American had anything to do with, and then demand political solutions that no one supports. I would be like setting up a dinner date with your ex-wife and allowing her to explain the many reasons why she hates you: no matter how good the restaurant or the music, its not worth the hassle.”

      Indeed. As much as I’m open to celebrating a new holiday, especially one that celebrates freedom, I can’t help but think “and how much will I be scolded for celebrating this holiday, just because of the color of my skin?”; hence the mixed feelings about embracing it.

      I can’t see myself celebrating this holiday until it is clear that I can comfortably do it with a group of 100% white people, excepting sole black friend (perhaps even a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse!) invited to the party — who is as nonchalant about the party as everyone else.

      50 years ago, it probably could have been done; 30 years ago, it would have been pushing it. Today? Racial tensions are so bizarre, trying to navigate this minefield is a very scary prospect!

  9. I would love to celebrate the end of slavery, but I’m still working for the government this time of year. I don’t start working for me until sometime after July.

    1. Yeah, but that’s really more like extortion or a protection racket than slavery. No one is forcing you to work.

      1. Vote for AOC, she’ll get you paid if you choose not to work.

      2. I get it: similar, yet, different.

      3. I cant even tell if you’re serious here.

  10. I just noticed this holiday on my iPad calendar this year. I wonder why it took until now for somebody to brung it to my attention, and why I knew about the ridiculousness that is Kwanza so much earlier.

  11. Damn it, slavery did not end on June 19, 1865! The Emancipation Proclamation applied only to those portions of the Confederacy occupied by Union troops! It was a military order under which slaves in occupied territory were seized as enemy property and then emancipated. The Proclamation did not apply to unoccupied Confederate territory or to border states that remained loyal to the Union!

    Slavery in the United States did not end until December 18, 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. Doesn’t it make more sense to celebrate that day instead of some date that most of us had never heard of until a few years ago? (Yeah I know…June 19 is in the summer, and December 18 is in the dead of winter).

    1. Didn’t see your comment until I had already posted mine.

    2. there are enough holidays between November and January so why not find a time when no one is doing anything

    3. Damn it, slavery did not end on June 19, 1865!

      +1

    4. Christ wasn’t born on December 25th either. I don’t care. It’s a hell of a lot harder to have a barbecue in December than June.

  12. I gotta say, the stuff about the virtues of the emancipation proclamation was a bit much. Sure, it allowed the heroic generals to free all the slaves of the defeated confederacy they could get their hands on, but the slaves of the United States of America were not freed until after the civil war and even then not until the death of Abe and the passing of the thirteenth amendment.

    1. Not knocking the 13th Amendment, but people had previously been liberated, or liberated themselves, before it was made all official and legal. They took what had always been theirs, and the positive law tried to catch up.

      1. That being so, why don’t we celebrate a date associated with African Americans asserting their rights for themselves – say, Frederick Douglass’ birthday – instead of a day on which they passively received “freedom” from a white guy?

        1. MLK day comes closest, and it’s going to remain in the secular calendar even after the latest controversy.

          (US media – “what controversy? Did something happen?”)

          1. Not to be overly picky, but your point about the former slaves liberating themselves was true in the former Confederacy. Slavery still existed not only in the border states but also in the Middle Atlantic states like Penna and NJ, which had “abolished” slavery on a prospective basis – those born into slavery after slavery was “abolished” in those states became free at age 21, while those already slaves prior to the date slavery was “abolished” remained slaves. That how NJ had slaves well into the 1860s. It truly was the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment that ended slavery once and for all.

        2. I’ve said before that Black History Month should actually start on Jan. 15th and run to Feb 14th. MLK, Tubman, Parks, Lincoln, Douglass, you couldn’t frame the highlights more perfectly.

    2. This.

      The EP only applied to States in rebellion. Slaves held in Union controlled territory were not covered. And this is because the order was only valid as an exercise of POTUS’ supreme military authority as commander in chief.

      IOW it was a dictatorial act. Well intention or not it should not be a cause for celebration like the end of the war or ratification of the 13th.

      1. Right, and if Abe had great intentions why didn’t he try to emancipated the slaves in his own country? Kind of ironic how the EP only applied to the confederacy.

        1. It was a military tactic, ordered by a military commander.

    3. I gotta say, the stuff about the virtues of the emancipation proclamation was a bit much. Sure, it allowed the heroic generals to free all the slaves of the defeated confederacy they could get their hands on, but the slaves of the United States of America were not freed until after the civil war and even then not until the death of Abe and the passing of the thirteenth amendment.

      Additionally, being utilitarians and libertarians and otherwise foregoing feels and caring about things like personal sovereignty and self-reliance, the whole affair is a bit pointless. Yes, lots of slaves were no longer owned by anyone after 1865 but lacking broad agency and generally not themselves owning property, lots died as the result of emancipation official emancipation.

  13. Despite the #MeToo stuff and the socialism, I would prefer to stick with Martin Luther King day. At least he went out and grabbed his freedom instead of hearing some general announce it.

    I can see Juneteenth being a good Texas holiday, but seriously, most slaves in the other states had gained their freedom – or gone ahead and grabbed it – before June 1865.

    1. You know where MLK grabbed freedom?

      1. Apparently anywhere he could get away with.

  14. its one thing to remember the past, its quite another thing to believe you are still in the past with no social gains as many are want to claim. Never forget but move on those around you today had nothing to do with what happened eight generations ago

  15. We’ve had Juneteenth here in MPLX since the late 80s. It’s no big deal…..

  16. The slaves were freed by the 13th Amendment, not Lincoln’s impotent Proclamation…

  17. With the politicians debating slavery reparations, why not prohibition reparations? Freedom and records expungement for everyone busted for plant leaves ‘n such–PLUS a hefty indemnity–would go a ways toward removing the politicians and laws that have served as proxies for Dixiecrat racial laws. Large numbers, skewed as though gerrymandered, are prevented from voting in a democracy because of prohibitionist initiation of force. The LP could use the additional votes.

  18. If we want to celebrate the end of slavery in America, why don’t we celebrate the day that the last wild Indians surrendered and went onto a reservation?

    Native Americans in the western states were the last people to hold slaves outright in America. I love making progs assholes twitch when I remind them of that fact…

  19. Sorry but this is despicable, quoting Frederick Douglass on the irony of July 4th for black Americans BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR, and then writing: “Today’s Juneteenth observers feel similarly,” including the author apparently.

    It is hard to think of anything more contrary to the spirit of Frederick Douglass. The Civil War changed nothing? The ending of slavery changed nothing?

    Numerous founding fathers, themselves highly aware of the irony of attempting to found a nation on principles of liberty by forming a union half made up of states that allowed human slavery, expressed their belief that the principles of liberty, founded in Christianity and natural law and now protected by our new Constitution, would work an end to slavery, and they were right.

    Lincoln in his Gettysburg address recognized the war to preserve union and end of slavery as the culmination of the principles of liberty and democracy set out in the Declaration of Independence: “Four score and seven years ago.” That is July 4th, Independence Day!

    And what did Douglass himself say about this battle to achieve the promise of the Declaration? He urged blacks to join it, to seize their opportunity to help defend and secure the principles upon which the nation had been founded:

    “Men of Color, To Arms! The case is before you. This is our golden opportunity. Let us accept it, and forever wipe out the dark reproaches unsparingly hurled against us by our enemies. Let us win for ourselves the gratitude of our country, and the best blessings of our posterity through all time.”

    Zuri Davis would set aside this understanding of the end of slavery as the fulfillment of the principles of liberty set out in the Declaration of Independence, declaring those principles to still be an irony of unfulfilled promise, even after the promise is fulfilled!

    Sure, add a SECOND day to celebrate the fulfillment of that particular promise of our Declaration of Independence, but to say that there is any reason for blacks to still feel that the principles of liberty set out in the Declaration do not apply to them, that is a scurrilous lack of appreciation. Does actual liberty mean nothing?

    Who does Zuri think freed American blacks from slavery? Does she think it was black people? Did blacks free themselves? No they were freed almost entirely by whites, at huge cost in life and treasure. A relatively small number of blacks fought on both sides and that was a big part of Douglass’ pitch for blacks to support the Union army, so that blacks could not be accused of fighting primarily for the South:

    “There are at the present moment many colored men in the Confederate army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers , but as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops, and do all that soldiers may to destroy the Federal Government and build up that of the traitors and rebels.”

    He was urgent that northern blacks join the battle to achieve the promise of the Declaration, yet now after the achievement of this promise is history Zuri would have blacks exclude themselves from it? July 4th is where emancipation from slavery came from, not Juneteenth. That is just WHEN it arrived (in one particular location).

    It is crazy to spurn FROM WHENCE emancipation arrived, and Frederick Douglass of all people would certainly not be with Zuri on this. He like Lincoln identified the birth of America’s system of liberty with July 4th.” That is the meaning of his pre-war Independence Day speech, and when the Civil War arrived he wanted blacks to fight so that they could be make their own contribution to the fulfillment of the promise of the Declaration, so that they too could celebrate and be celebrated on those July 4th birthdays.

    Stop the either or. Celebrating Juneteenth does not require any aspersion that July 4th as in any way a disappointment, a thing that blacks should want to separate themselves from. Douglass would roll over in his grave. He wanted blacks to stake their claim to be patriots of liberty and independence, to fight for it so they could never be justly denied appreciation for their role in achieving the promise of the Declaration.

    Throw all that away just to pump up this OTHER day with a cynical and un-needed boost? Very foolish. Very wrong. It’s like Kaepernick kneeling in protest to the flag. I will gladly stand for Juneteenth but anyone who thinks that is even consistent with sitting down for July 4th is an ignoramus. There is no Juneteenth without July 4th.

  20. […] Today is Juneteenth, commemorating June 19, 1865, when Texas slaves learned they had been freed and began celebrating “the “other American Independence day.” By Zuri Davis in Reason. […]

  21. […] MUST READ: “America’s Other Independence Day“: Zuri Davis reflects on the meaning—historically and today—of Juneteeth celebrations.• […]

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