Juneteenth: The Almost Forgotten Month
A once glorified celebration fights to become a societal norm.
I’ve lived in the same general area most of my life, and I like to think I know it pretty well. I’m also a civil rights enthusiast and have absorbed a fair amount of research on the topic over the years. However, I discovered two things a couple weeks ago that I was embarrassed to have not known previously: The Abyssinian Meeting House and Juneteenth. The meeting house, nestled in the heart of Portland, ME, is the third black meeting house in the country. Juneteenth, which I learned while on a private tour of the meeting house, was information that really caught my attention.
We all know the Emancipation Proclamation, but there is so much more to it than just declaring the end of slavery. Unfortunately, all of the enslaved men and women were not all of a sudden freed from their physical chains, they had new obstacles to face. With all the years of turmoil that slavery imposed on our country, and many people still stuck in racist ways, there’s no way slavery just ended at the snap of Lincolns’ fingers. There were many things that went wrong for black people once they were freed, such as the black codes, but for the sake of learning something new, let’s talk Juneteenth.
June 19, 1865, now known as Juneteenth, marks a very specific day in history. It was on this day that Union soldiers made their way into a very confederate Galveston, Texas, and announced the ending of slavery. This was very new information to the people of Texas, however it was old news to the rest of the nation. Strangely enough, the news of the Emancipation Proclamation, enacted on January 1, 1863, made its way to Texans well over 2 years after the fact. There are many theories as to how this happened, and you are welcome to conjure up your own, but I still find it disturbing and unfathomable. The delivery of this news made Texas the last non-union state to make slavery illegal. Until the ratification of the 13th amendment, which conveniently happened in 1865, slavery was still legal in union states.
Conspiracy theories aside, Juneteenth marks an unforgettable moment, and is still celebrated to this day. The purpose is for the freedom, culture, and achievements of African Americans to be celebrated – a day of merriment, remembrance, and the continued fight to bring awareness to our country’s past. Throughout history, there has been an inconsistent decline and resurgence of how broadly this day is celebrated. At its peak, Booker T. Washington Park would be filled with over 20 thousand African Americans eating and participating in activities while celebrating their culture.
As hard as it is to believe, a whole state full of enslaved men and women had no idea they were free, and I also had no idea of the hidden cultural gem I grew up down the street from.
It was around the beginning of the 1900’s when participation in Juneteenth began to decline. The economy was taking a hit, so many people had to leave their land and find work in the cities. With this, people were unable to miss work, so less and less emphasis was put on the importance of Juneteenth – it was essentially becoming abandoned. Educators and textbooks also removed everything pertaining to Juneteenth, and taught the Emancipation Proclamation as being the lone document to abolish all slavery. It was not until January 1, 1980, that Juneteenth began making a new name for itself. This is when Texas declared June 19th as an official state holiday, with efforts still trying to make it a National one.
As hard as it is to believe, a whole state full of enslaved men and women had no idea they were free, and I also had no idea of the hidden cultural gem I grew up down the street from. The most important thing we can do as people, is to take these lessons as we learn them, and do what we can to spread knowledge and awareness. My day at that little meeting house has given me more motivation to learn as much as possible, to do my part in teaching my children, and hope that they appreciate their history and use their own knowledge to further the push for education on such topics.