Juneteenth 2016: Celebrations And Festivals Bring Troubled History To American Consciousness, But What Is Juneteenth Day?

Juneteenth 2016 remembers the day all slaves in America finally gained their freedom. It marks June 19, 1965, the day that news arrived in Texas that slavery had ended in the United States and that all slaves were free. The official document ending slavery was put into effect over two years prior, but because President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated earlier in 1965 and the U.S. government was not yet in control of all the southern states even though the Civil War ended, the law was impossible to put into effect everywhere. Juneteenth Day marks the day the message finally came through.

In 2016 and more recent years, Juneteenth Day is a celebration that takes place in African-American communities around the country. It marks a glorious occasion in the progress of African-Americans in the United States and recalls a history of triumph, in which efforts to end slavery by both blacks and whites finally came to their conclusion. Americans of all races can take note of the lessons learned and understand an integral part of the nation’s past. Celebrations usually include parades, cookouts, parties, community events, and family get-togethers.

As The Washington Post reports, the modern day celebrations are a bit different than those of the past, where celebrations included rodeos and communal barbecues in keeping with the times. Today, Juneteenth celebrations in some locations resemble more of a reclamation of traditional African culture, with African dance performances and traditional African instruments playing. Forty-five states currently recognize Juneteenth Day as a holiday, yet it has yet to gain national observance, even over 150 years after the original inspiration for the festivities.

If Juneteenth 2016, or in years to come, could indeed gain acceptance on a national level, it would join national observances of African-American history on par with the observed holiday of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, the third Monday of January every year, and Black History Month which is celebrated every February. Various states also have various holidays of their own which commemorate other events in the history of African-Americans, but national acceptance brings things to another level of consciousness.

The New York Times published the original order delivered to Galveston, Texas that states in no uncertain terms that slavery had ended.

“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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

This ended slavery by changing the relationship between master and slave to one between employer and employee. It didn’t necessarily provide new employment opportunities or shuttle blacks out of Texas, but it did provide the necessary element to ensure that the Emancipation Proclamation was enforceable across the country, and states couldn’t further hold out by keeping de facto slavery in the face of its illegality.

The document further frames the consequences of not following the order. The document completely removes the rights of Texas as a Confederate state. Those not submitting to the United States government were told how they would be dealt with, as The New York Times further illustrates through the document.

“All persons not complying promptly with this order will be arrested as prisoners of war and sent North for imprisonment, and their property forfeited. All lawless persons committing acts of violence, such as banditti, guerrillas, jayhawkers, horse thieves, etc., etc., are hereby declared outlaws and enemies of the human race, and will be dealt with accordingly.”

The consequences are harsh, but then again, so was slavery. That is why people want Juneteenth 2016 festivities to fully reach their potential impact.

[Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images]

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