What is Juneteenth?


Today is a holiday that is probably uploaded automatically on your cell phone's calendar but there is a good chance you don't know what it is.

  • graphic by wayward social
    graphic by wayward social

Happy Juneteenth Day.

I have to admit, I saw that on my June calendar at the beginning of June but looked right over it as I had zero clue what it is. I did chuckle at the name. Juneteenth.

Did not give it another thought until President Donald Trump scheduled his first campaign rally on June 19, Juneteenth Day, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The first of his usual massive political rallies since Covid shut down the world.

After several African-American leaders reached out to him and educated him on what Juneteenth Day was celebrating, he moved the day to Saturday, June 20 and shone the spotlight on one of the most obscure holidays.

With it thrust into the national spotlight, it was a chance to educate myself on what the holiday represents as it becomes more of a conversation.

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

While President Abraham Lincoln famously signed the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862, it became effective on January 1, 1863.

For slaves in Texas, this did not come into reality until Major General Gordon Granger and his troops, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. There was now enough Union Troops in Texas to enforce the proclamation that had went into effect two years earlier.

This was just two months after General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox to General Ulyssis S. Grant.

With their freedom, many former slaves sought to return to neighboring states and be reunited with family members in which they had been separated from because of being sold to another slave trader.

According to Juneteenth.com, the Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members.

According to explorekyhistory.com, "Even before the guns fell silent at the end of the Civil War, freedmen and freedwomen began to set annual days of celebration to remember their deliverance from bondage. Most often these celebrations featured a speech by a notable personality from the community. They usually also included a large pitch-in dinner and a parade through the streets of the village, town, or city. In addition, other activities frequently included a public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, play performances about slavery and emancipation by African American school children and black fraternal organizations, and baseball games. When weather proved inclement, churches provided buildings and tents for meeting spaces."

In Paducah, a historical marker indicates it was celebrated on August 8. Throughout the country, the joy of the proclamation was celebrated at various times. Some celebrated it on January 1 when it became effective while others celebrated it on September 22 when Lincoln signed it. Others chose April 9 when Lee's aforementioned surrender occurred.

Kentucky has recognized the holiday in June since 2005 but recently Governor Andy Beshear has called for it to become a state holiday. A bill was pre-filed by Rep. Kevin Bratcher, R-Louisville, to just this effect and Kentucky legislators will have the opportunity to consider it.

"I think it is important that we remind everybody of this dark chapter in our history and that its impact continues to linger, and that we celebrate the dates, at least portions of it, that it ended," Gov. Beshear said.

Kentucky Senator Wil Schroder told Falmouth Outlook, "Several U. S. Senators announced filing a bill to make Juneteeenth a federal holiday. If it is not passed at the federal level, I would be in favor of making it a state holiday in Kentucky."

He went on to point out that he would want to see an economic impact on giving state employees the day off before making a final decision.

"Currently, not all state holidays give employees the day off," he added.

Representative Mark Hart pointed out that Kentucky is one of 49 states that currently recognizes Juneteenth as the unofficial holiday for the freeing of the last slaves held in the United States.

"I support formalizing this as a holiday and believe it should be a federal holiday not just a state holiday," Hart told the Falmouth Outlook while indicating he plans to support Bratcher's bill.

It is obvious that the Emancipation Proclamation is a moment of our history that aligns with the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights for the historical significance. It righted a grave wrong being done to our fellow man, woman and child.

It deserves to be a moment that we do honor rather than an odd sounding name automatically uploaded without thought when you purchase a new cell phone.