By Karen Stokes
Juneteenth has transformed into more than an occasion for acknowledging the emancipation of African Americans from slavery. It has evolved into a meaningful time to recognize the enduring spirit, solidarity, and vibrant culture of the Black community. Juneteenth offers an opportunity to reflect on the heritage.
In 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, declaring the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of all enslaved African Americans. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation being issued over two years earlier, slavery persisted in areas beyond Union control. The Union’s arrival in Texas liberated the remaining slaves and abolished this form of slavery in America.
African Americans actively participated in the abolition of slavery through resistance, rebellion, activism, organizing, education, military service, and legal challenges. Their contributions included acts of resistance, influential leadership, organizing institutions, fighting in the Civil War, and pursuing legal avenues to challenge slavery. Their efforts were instrumental in bringing about the eventual end of slavery and left a lasting legacy of resilience and determination.
The form of resistance most feared by slaveholders, however, was violent insurrection. Throughout the history of slavery, African captives and enslaved African Americans had taken up arms and fought back against their captors.
Additionally, much of the struggle was carried on in print. African Americans founded anti-slavery newspapers, such as the Mirror of Liberty, Freedom’s Journal, the National Watchman, and the North Star. They sparred with the defenders of slavery in the pages of newspapers and magazines and posted broadsides on city streets. Soon, a new genre of literature came into being, as abolitionists flooded the market with books and leaflets providing true accounts of life under slavery, of escapes, and of the lives of free African Americans who had risen to public prominence.
In 2021, President Joe Biden signed the legislation that made Juneteenth a federal holiday. The measure passed by a vote of 415 to 14, with all of the opposition coming from Republicans, some of whom argued that calling the new holiday Juneteenth Independence Day, echoing July 4, would create confusion and force Americans to choose a celebration of freedom based on their race, The NY Times reported.
According to the City of Milwaukee’s records, it is the oldest known and longest-running Juneteenth celebration in the United States. Now in its 52nd year, Milwaukee’s festival dates back to 1971. What started as a small gathering of vendors, now spans up to four blocks of fun.
Celebrations traditionally include food, speakers, live music, and, of course, one of the largest Juneteenth parades in the country.
Moving forward from the dark chapter of slavery in American History, there has been significant progress but it is important to recognize that this journey towards equality remains unfinished. Juneteenth, stands as a symbol of resilience and perseverance. Happy Juneteenth Day