Written by Lisa D. Tinsley
Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. It went into effect on January 1, 1863. In the Confederacy, slaves were not set free until the Union army came in and took over. Juneteenth derives its name from the day, June 19, 1865, that U.S. General Gordon Granger informed 250,000 enslaved individuals of Galveston, Texas, that they were officially free. With the creation of the Emancipation Proclamation, the end of the Civil War, and passage of the 13th Amendment, slavery finally ended throughout the United States.
- During the time between the Emancipation Proclamation and June 19, 1865, slave owners purposely withheld the news about the Emancipation Proclamation to keep a labor force leading to generating one last cotton harvest and a messenger was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom.
- A group of former Texas slaves, in 1872, bought 10 acres of open land by collecting $800 in an area near Houston. The parcel named Emancipation Park is used for annual Juneteenth celebrations and it remains the oldest public park in the state.
- Susan Merritt, a former slave, recalled when freed slaves were caught swimming across the Sabine River, they were shot and others were beaten, lynched, or murdered.
- Juneteenth did not become an official state holiday in Texas until 1980. In total, 49 states have all passed legislation already recognizing Juneteenth as either a state holiday or day of observance. South Dakota is the only state that does not recognize Juneteenth.
- In 2003, Texas House of Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee calls for Juneteenth to be a national holiday. In 2014, President Barack Obama declared June 19th as a National Day of Observance. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law Juneteenth as a national holiday.
- Barbeque has always been a common culinary that celebrates Juneteenth. Red-colored food and drinks , particularly red punch and red velvet cake, are also common. According to the New York Times, “the crimson is a symbol of ingenuity and resilience in bondage.” Culinary historians believe the color red signifies strength in some West African cultures.
- A resurgence of Juneteenth did not happen until the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s and early 1970s. With an emphasis on pride, culture and re-claiming black history many became interested in Juneteenth.
- The original Juneteenth flag was designed in 1997 by Ben Haith, the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2000, the flag was first hoisted at the Roxbury Heritage State Park in Boston. Haith said the red, white, and blue emblem “gives all Americans the opportunity to recognize American freedom and African-American history.” The foundation’s slogan was —”a new freedom, a new people, a new star”—the banner included a red arc, blue background, and “a star of Texas bursting with new freedom throughout the land, over a new horizon.”
- In 2000, flag illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf offered her expertise to create a new look for the flag. As an illustrator, Graf fine-tuned their vision by adding the historic date “June 19th, 1865” and used the colors red, white, and blue to echo the American flag symbolizing that enslaved people and their descendants were Americans. In the middle, the star pays homage to Texas, while the bursting “new star” on the “horizon” of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.