June 19, 1865 is a historic day in American history

with little recognition…until now.

Juneteenth celebrates the freedom and achievements of Black Americans and serves as an opportunity to cultivate knowledge and appreciation of Black American history & culture. On this day, June 19, 1865, enslaved Africans in Galveston, Texas were read the Emancipation Proclamation by Union soldiers, 2 months after the end of the Civil War, and two and a half years after the executive order was signed. The Emancipation Proclamation — which changed the status of enslaved Africans in confederate states from slave to free — was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862 and became effective January 1, 1863. Early celebrations of Juneteenth can be traced back to 1866.

Why the delay? Slaveholders throughout the South and as far west as Texas ignored the Emancipation Proclamation throughout the war, and resisted the Union forces and new law even after the Confederate surrender.

Even with the Emancipation Proclamation and the surrender of all of the Confederate armies, freedom was far from guaranteed to freed slaves and their descendants. The gap between the law of the land and reality was wide. The 13th Amendment, which eliminated slavery in the United States, was ratified on December 6, 1865. Still, emancipation was followed by the turbulent and violent Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras which continued to marginalize and challenge the freedom of Black Americans. The insidious legacies of these eras for Black Americans persist today in systemic social, financial, health, and educational inequities across our Nation.

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Though, as we celebrate Juneteenth this year and every year, we celebrate the freedom and achievements of Black Americans and we also acknowledge the millions of people around the world advocating for the eradication of racism. So how can you participate in celebrating Juneteenth?

  • Take part in some of the many local activities throughout the Bay Area
  • Educate yourself on the history of Juneteenth (reading suggestions below)
  • Share Black literature, art, and stories
  • Buy from Black-owned establishments and restaurants
  • Register to vote, and get your friends to register too. We need everyone voting in 2020. We’ll have lots of guides and FAQs for you as the election gets closer, but you can always reach out to us at info@sfwpc.org

Thank you to SFWPC Member Danisha Lomax who helped craft this post, and shared how she celebrates Juneteenth:

Spending time with family and loved ones over a barbeque spread, with a few newer vegan options for me, shout-out to Soulfully Vegan. After cooking and eating together, we share our stories of progress, past and present day, and reflect on where we want to be as a family unit and in society. We make pledges to each other to hold ourselves accountable when the new year rolls around. This year, my goal is to find more ways to rest. I am mover and doer, I love to be busy, but I am learning that there is so much resistance in resting. Rest was not something that was afforded to my ancestors, so by actively resting, I am paying homage to them and the foundational work they laid in this country, in our DNA and our hearts. After our pledge this year, I think we’ll watch Harriet, directed by a Black woman, Kasi Lemmons, or Da 5 Bloods by Spike Lee.

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Pre-pandemic, we would visit MOADSF or the Oakland Museum of California. This year, we cannot do that, so what I have done is order many new books for myself and my children that highlight and celebrate our culture as Black Americans. My most recent order for myself was Kwame Brathwaite’s Black is Beautiful. My daughter has Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History, so I ordered the alternative for my son, Little Leaders, Bold Men in Black History, and Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti. I am excited to read with my children and continue to grow their knowledge of the beauty in what it means to be black. 

Danisha Lomax is Vice President, Group Director, National Paid Social Lead, at Digitas, where she leads go-to-market strategy, planning, and execution for a wide range of clients. She is thought leader on authentic engagement, culture driven content, and organizational impact. She also develops programming to empower women of color through advocacy and professional development. SFWPC is thrilled to have Danisha as a member of our Policy Committee.

For further reading on Juneteenth, Emancipation, and the struggle against racism:

  • Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery by Leon Litwack
  • Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Deborah Willis
  • Stony the Road by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
  • Essay “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory” by Elizabeth Hayes Turner

Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday on January 1, 1980. Currently, 47 out of the 50 U.S. states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. In response to the #BlackLivesMatter protests sweeping the nation, companies large and small have started to offer employees Juneteenth off as a paid holiday, and there have been nationwide calls to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Sources:

What is Juneteenth?, PBS.org, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 2013 (This article was originally published on The Root but the source was unavailable)
Juneteenth website
Reconstruction, History.com, History.com editors, February 10, 2020
African American Odyssey, Library of Congress, 2008

 

 

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