President Abraham Lincoln had, quote, “freed” the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. But it took two and a half years before the executive order was really enforced. June 19, 1865. In the south, it became an instant holiday. Juneteenth.
Celebrating Juneteenth isn’t as widespread today as it was in the past. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sing and dance ourselves. As well as think long and hard about what the day it self signifies. And few could say it better than Nina Simone.
It’s just a feeling. It’s like how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love? How are you going to tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love? You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things, but you can’t tell ‘em. But you know it when it happens. That’s what I mean by free.
I’ve had a couple of times on stage when I really felt free! And that’s something else, that’s really something else!
I’ll tell you what freedom is to me – no fear. I mean really, no fear. If I could have that half of my life, no fear. Lots of children have no fear. That’s the closest way, that’s the only way I can describe it. That’s not all of it, but it is something to really, really feel free. Like a new way of seeing, like a new way of seeing something.
This was two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was made official.
There are several stories as to why it took so long for the news of freedom to reach Texas. Some say that the original message bearer was killed on his way south. Others say that the news was deliberately withheld by slave owners in a last grasp at power. Whatever the reason, the fact is that the slavery continued in Texas long after it was made illegal.
But when Granger arrived, the union forces were finally strong enough to overcome resistance to emancipation. This day—June 19th—became an instant holiday, Juneteeth.
The Juneteenth Celebration became a time of gathering family and for praying. Various activities were planned and provided, mostly focusing on education and the fostering of positive goals, all the while keeping in mind the harsh and recent realities of slavery. Early Juneteenth celebrations had traditions intended to fly in the face of restrictions put on slaves. One such tradition called for former slaves to throw their ragged garments into local rivers and dress in clothes formerly reserved only for their masters.
While Juneteenth is not so widely celebrated today as it was in the reconstruction era, it saw a resurgence in the 1950’s as a result of the civil rights movement. It’s still celebrated by African-Americans around the nation.