Tuesday, June 17, 2008


As defined by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

June 19, an African-American holiday commemorating the date in 1865 when many slaves in Texas learned they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863).


Juneteenth celebration on the day that news of the
Emancipation Proclamation read

by Bob Shipman, co author Ron Brown 06.09.2008

"But, if this part of our history could be told in such a way that those chains of the past, those shackles that physically bound us together against our wills could, in the telling, become spiritual links that willingly bind us together now and into the future - then that painful Middle Passage could become, ironically, a positive connecting line to all of us whether living inside or outside the continent of Africa..."

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

Juneteenth, long a Texas celebration of the day that news of theEmancipation Proclamation reached its shore is starting to catch on instates where slaves received word of their freedom well before June 19,1865.

Now some in Texas, where official word of President Abraham Lincoln's freeing of the slaves took more than two years to arrive, want to see the holiday they view as bigger than the Fourth of July expanded to a national observance.

And it appears that Juneteenth celebrations are quietly gaining popularity from coast to coast, popping up in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Colorado, Florida, California, New York and Utah.

State Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston, who got Juneteenth observed by the state in 1979, says the way to go about achieving a national holiday designation is to get Juneteenth celebrations recognized as state holidays elsewhere. So far, Texas, the last state to receive official word of the Emancipation Proclamation, is the only state in the nation that recognizes Juneteenth.

"Any place where you have a politically conscious African population and culturally conscious African population, [Juneteenth] is being celebrated," said Kwame-Osagyefo Kalimara, a history professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, where Juneteenth celebrations have taken place for atleast seven years.

"If you go back 10 or 12 years ago, you wouldn't have anybody in Atlanta talking about Juneteenth," he said. "You now have more people willing to pick up the banner and spread the news, so to speak."

Currie Ballard, the historian in residence at Oklahoma's Langston University, said slaves in Oklahoma received the word of Lincoln's proclamation on Aug. 4, 1863.
For years, celebrations took place on that day.

But as the years went on, the celebrations slowed, and over time Oklahoma citizens adopted the same date as neighboring Texas - June 19.

"Once the people who were one generation removed from slavery died, it was not celebrated any more," Ms. Ballard said of the Aug. 4 celebration. "As of late, people are getting more and more familiar with Juneteenth. The average person of Oklahoma has no idea about August 4th."
A similar situation took place in Mississippi, where slaves learned of their freedom on May 8, 1863, said Mr. Edwards. Eighth of May celebrations commonly took place in Mississippi, but as the years went by, the celebrations waned, he said.

Though other states had similar observances, Mr. Edwards said, "Nowhere has it been celebrated like it is in Texas."

Juneteenth specifically refers to the news that Gen. Gordon Granger took to Galveston Island along with a force of Union soldiers 2 [and] 1/2 years after Lincoln declared American slaves free.

"Our ancestors took being free with so much pride that a lot of them would not work on that day," Mr. Edwards said. "They kept it in our memories. They kept it in our culture, and eventually black folks started celebrating it more than the Fourth of July."

During a time when celebrations ceased in other states, Texas families made sure that even if there wasn't an organized Juneteenth celebration, their children and families were aware of the day that Gen. Granger landed at Galveston, Mr. Edwards said.
Mr. Kalimara said it still isn't clear when slaves in Georgia received word of their freedom. He said that as black people have started embracing their history over the last 15 years, June 19, 1865, has become a date that blacks everywhere can point to.

"Any time we have an opportunity to deal with the drudgery of being enslaved, it offers an emotional release," Mr. Kalimara said of Juneteenth celebrations. "It's growing just like Kwanzaa."

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