Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, the Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with the news that the war had ended and freed all remaining slaves. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — which had become official on Jan. 1, 1863.
An estimated 200,000 slaves were freed that day, making it a jubilant and joyous occasion, to say the least.
The celebration of June 19 was coined “Juneteenth,” using the name of the month that freedom came and by using the suffix “teenth” to represent the 19th day. For decades these annual celebrations grew with more participation from slave descendants and flourished in the African-American communities all over, especially in Texas.
It was a time of reassuring each other and for family gatherings. Juneteenth almost always focused on education and self-improvement, and guest speakers and elders were brought in to recount the events of the past.
Today, Juneteenth is recognized as an official holiday in 42 states, and celebrations are held in about 250 cities across the country each year.
Parades, rodeos, barbecues and baseball are some of the activities that entertained the people, many of which continue as traditions today. Juneteenth celebrates African-American freedom and achievement while encouraging self-development and self determination.
Linda Simmons, president, African-American Foundation
of Greater Miami, Miami