A summer or two ago, my family went on vacation to Tennessee and considered visiting the Hermitage, the historic house of Andrew Jackson. We saw on their website that they were having an event called Juneteenth Commemoration, which boasted living history demonstrations (similar to Talking Tombstones) centered on slavery and a workshop to research your family that was put on by the African-American Historical and Genealogical Society. As a white family of history buffs who had never even heard of Juneteenth, we were worried that we would not be welcome at such an event and decided not to go. Now that I am a junior year History major that just completed an amazing Civil War course, I am kicking myself for not taking the opportunity to learn more about this underrated holiday and important piece of slave and African-American history not taught in schools.
A Brief History
On June 19th, 1865, the Union Army arrived in Texas following the Civil War to emancipate the slaves in the last slave-holding state of the former Confederacy. Union Major General Gordon Granger and his soldiers represented a strong enough Union force in Texas to enforce emancipation with “General Order No. 3.” This order, read by General Gordon, served as the first time Texans heard of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, roughly two and half years after its original issue date of January 1, 1863. Theories as to the cause of the delay include a murdered messenger, lack of Union Army presence to enforce emancipation, or the slave owners of Texas withholding the information from the slaves (or all three combined).
After learning of their freedom, the formerly enslaved people of Texas understandably began celebrating, an occasion that spread to other African-American communities throughout the south and across the United States. By its first anniversary, Juneteenth (a mash-up of June and nineteenth) had become an annual celebration of freedom throughout the country. Now 45 states, including Missouri, recognize June 19th as a day of observance of freedom, emancipation, and African American culture and history.
Bensell, Edmund Birckhead, Artist. The Day of Jubelo. Circa 1865. Photograph. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Photograph Co. Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3a20729/
How to Celebrate
Everyone loves the outdoor activities put on for the 4th of July holiday, and now Juneteenth provides another day to celebrate freedom in the summer months. Today, Wednesday June 19, is the 154th anniversary of the original Juneteenth celebration.
Juneteenth celebrations traditionally centered around an outdoor space and/or a local church. This setting allowed for activities like rodeos, fishing, or baseball. Churches were usually involved along with prominent community members or guest speakers, as this day is observed to promote peace, prayer, and self-improvement.
Murray, Grace. Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900. 1900. Photograph. University of North Texas Libraries, crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library. https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth124053/m1/1/
If you haven’t gotten enough of the Ivers Square celebration from the past weekend, Juneteenth is the perfect reason to continue the festivities in the park. It would be quite fitting to celebrate Juneteenth Emancipation Day in a park named after a Cape Girardeau slave family who fought for their freedom and near a statue recognizing all other African-Americans in the area who fought as well.
If you feel like Juneteenth should be more widely recognized and celebrated as a part of history like I do, please share this blog! Also, feel free to comment any additional information you have on this holiday. We would love to hear your stories or how you celebrate Juneteenth!
Here are some of the websites I consulted in doing my research and can provide you with even more information: