A Brief History of Juneteenth
To talk about Juneteenth, we have to start in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation. We know this as the declaration that Abraham Lincoln presented during the Civil War to free all enslaved African Americans in confederate states. It became the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, after approval by both the House and the Senate, and ratification by Lincoln. However, this freedom couldn’t be enforced in confederately-controlled states. On June 19, 1865, freedom finally came, when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. “The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as "Juneteenth," by the newly freed people in Texas.”
Today, we celebrate the freedom, the unchanging attitude, and hope Juneteenth brings. After emancipation, African Americans fought for restitution, for accessible education, for changed legislation, and to unify families. It is a holiday that celebrates that fight and insatiable drive for equality, opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness – a very basic human right.
This week, Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday. It was a long over-do and long-anticipated moment. Unfortunately, much like the painted city streets with the words “Black Lives Matter” and rainbow crosswalks, there is still much work to be done. A move by Congress is a step forward, to be sure; however, it does not create racial equality. It seems like, instead, to be a placation for the American people fighting for, supporting, and working toward that very cause.
We are not done.
Celebrate Juneteenth, please, for all that it encompasses. Celebrate the progress and the moment, but dear friends, remain vigilant; remain unsatisfied with empty gestures; keep making people uncomfortable.
The progress we’ve made over the past year came only by putting pressure where it hurts, by making people uncomfortable.
So, Happy Juneteenth!
And remember: BLACK LIVES STILL MATTER.
Sarah Hixson (she/her/hers) is an emerging art museum curator and educator. If you have questions for her, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and she'll get back to you as soon as possible.