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History of Juneteenth




On January 1st, 1863, a day known as Freedom Day, the Thirteenth Amendment officially went into effect and enslaved African Americans were declared legally free. Union soldiers, many of whom were black, traveled across the Confederate States, passing out pamphlets with the Emancipation Proclamation to spread the news that African Americans were now free.

 

But the news took time to travel, and the Thirteenth Amendment couldn’t be implemented in places still under Confederate control. Galveston Bay, Texas stood as the last place in the United States of America that African Americans were not free. This changed on June 19th, 1865, nearly two and a half years after the Thirteenth Amendment first took effect.

 

This day became known as “Juneteenth” by the over 250,000 newly freed people of Texas.

 

Kelly Navies, a museum specialist and oral historian at the Nation Museum of African American History and Culture says this about the history of Juneteenth celebrations:

 

“Throughout the war, Texas remained largely free of the presence of Union troops. A year after General Granger’s announcement, Texans celebrated the first Juneteenth. However, African Americans had to overcome many challenges in the years after learning of their ‘freedom.’ Many states, including Texas, passed stringent laws curtailing the movement and actions of the newly freed men and women. Those in power also attempted to thwart the observance of Juneteenth by denying large groups of African Americans access to land on which to celebrate. In response to this strategy, in 1872, Black Houstonians, under the leadership of Rev. Jack Yates, a formerly enslaved man, formed the Colored People and Emancipation Park Association to purchase a plot of land that could be used for Juneteenth celebrations. This plot of land became known as Emancipation Park and throughout the era of segregation it was the only public park open to African Americans in Houston, Texas. In other towns throughout the South, similar strategies were used to secure safe spaces for Juneteenth observance."



Juneteenth is a day that has been celebrated by African Americans since 1866 and became an officially recognized holiday in 2021. As the National Museum of African American History and Culture says, “it serves as a day to celebrate African American resilience and achievement while aiding in the preservation of those historical narratives that promoted racial and personal advancement since Freedom Day.”

 

The Museum has an abundance of resources about the holiday and I urge you to take a look at their website where they take a look at the history, taste, and sound of the holiday and it’s legacy!

 

I’d like to end this blog post with a prayer from the Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson, who is the first woman, and the first Black woman, to be the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.

 

We give thanks to God

for freedom and emancipation of the enslaved people.


God heard the voices and supplications of enslaved people

those enslaved beyond Emancipation Day in 1863

cheated of their lives and livelihood by oppressors

beyond the pale of human rights and dignity.


From the shacks and plantations of Texas they cried:

“God, we pray, save our children!”


The snares of death encompassed them in the places

where they were held captive and used as commodity

God inclined his ear to them

delivering them from the distress and anguish of this living hell.


From the shacks and plantations of Texas they cried:

“God, we pray, save our lives!”


Because of their skin they were deemed less than farm animals

these African and African American people made in the image of the Divine

therefore they called on God all day long

praying to God to loosen their chains.


From the shacks and plantations of Texas they cried:

“God, we pray, keep us from harm and danger!”


We will pay our vows to God

in the presence of all people

we give thanks and praise to God

for the full emancipation for these human beings.


From the shacks and plantations of Texas they sang:

“God, we thank you for saving our lives.”


“All persons henceforth shall be free”

were the words spoken in 1863

today we reinforce with thanksgiving

God’s life, love and liberty.


From the depths of our hearts we cry:

“God, we thank you for deliverance.”

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