Virginia Governor Ralph Northam recently announced that Juneteenth would be recognized as a state holiday, with UVA President Jim Ryan following suit Wednesday afternoon. In the wake of the protests following the murder of George Floyd, and the surge in the Black Lives Matter movement, Juneteenth takes on particular significance.
What is Juneteenth?
Celebrated annually on the 19th of June, Juneteenth has long been celebrated in Black communities as a commemoration of the end of slavery and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a celebration that is uniquely Texan in origin. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in January of 1863. However, it was two full years later, on June 19th when Major General Gordon Granger arrived, that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, heard the general order that upheld their liberty.
“The people of Texas 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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.” – General Order 3
It’s important to note that Granger’s arrival did not constitute the definitive end to chattel slavery in Texas and the United States. Many plantation owners dithered in communicating the order, waiting until after harvest to continue to reap the economic benefits of slavery. For those freed Black men and women who chose to celebrate that first Juneteenth, it meant celebration in the face of grave danger from plantation owners. But the holiday endured. It endured in the face of continued terror from white landowners, it endured through Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, and beyond. In 1979, Texas designated Juneteenth as an official holiday, with 47 states following suit either as an official state holiday or observance.
Why It Matters.
As Emma Lazarus said, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” Juneteenth is a poignant exemplar of the essential truth of this. The strides that we make as a nation, or as a community, are meaningless if there are still those of us who suffer. By commemorating the day that enslaved peoples in the last stronghold of the Confederacy learned of their freedom, we commemorate the promise and potential of achievement. We celebrate resilience and hope, and we acknowledge that still, there is work to be done.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes:
Of all Emancipation Day observances, Juneteenth falls closest to the summer solstice (this Friday, June 21), the longest day of the year, when the sun, at its zenith, defies the darkness in every state, including those once shadowed by slavery. By choosing to celebrate the last place in the South that freedom touched — reflecting the mystical glow of history and lore, memory and myth, as Ralph Ellison evoked in his posthumous novel, Juneteenth — we remember the shining promise of emancipation, along with the bloody path America took by delaying it and deferring fulfillment of those simple, unanticipating words in Gen. Granger’s original order No. 3: that “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”
How and Where to Celebrate.
Please find below, a list of virtual celebrations and educational opportunities based in Charlottesville and beyond, that can help you learn more about Juneteenth.
- Celebrate Freedom Day – Friday, June 19,2-3 p.m. EDT
- This virtual presentation and Q&A session on “Juneteenth and Its Historical Significance in George Floyd’s America” will be led by Prof. Ervin L. Jordan, Jr.
- The Jefferson School Annual Juneteenth Celebration, Friday June 19, 6-7 p.m EDT
- Join our Elder and educator Maxine Holland, C. R. Gibbs, Richelle Claiborne and Ti Ames for a presentation in celebration of the deeply complex history of Juneteenth. With a special video presentation by historian Hari Jones, former Assistant Director and Curator at the African American Civil War Freedom Foundation and Museum in Washington, D.C., who explains how the holiday came about and how the Lost Cause myth and propaganda played a role into how it is celebrated today.
- Month-long offerings from Montpelier (June 1-30)