KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Juneteenth is a day that has long been celebrated by Black Americans with this year seeing some significant social movements regarding racial justice in the U.S.
Juneteenth is being recognized more now by governments, organizations and businesses across the country as a national holiday to honor the past and show solidarity with the Black community now amid weeks of protests and rallies concerning police brutality and racial inequity that has marked American history.
If you didn’t learn about Juneteenth while attending school, you’re not the only one. Here are some things to know about Juneteenth and why it matters in American history — and the present day.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S. that is recognized on June 19.
News traveled slow in the 19th century
On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned from Union soldiers they were free and that the Civil War had ended.
This news arrived in Texas two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had been made official on Jan. 1, 1863, that freed millions of enslaved people across the United States.
Most states observe Juneteenth
Most states already observe Juneteenth; in fact, the state of Texas was the first to make Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980. Since the 1980s, other states have marked the day as a holiday or day of observance, with many marking it in the 21st century.
There is current legislation in Tennessee’s capitol to make Juneteenth a holiday; on Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee announced he would sign a Juneteenth proclamation. Virginia’s governor proposed making Juneteenth a state holiday earlier this week; New York’s governor signed an executive order Wednesday declaring Juneteenth a holiday for state employees.
How was Juneteenth celebrated?
In the past, Juneteenth was often celebrated with picnics and outdoor fun, similar to Fourth of July celebrations; however, it is widely known that African Americans were not considered free on July 4, 1776 — which is why sociological experts say Juneteenth is viewed as “America’s other Independence Day.”
Experts say early celebrations included outdoor activities and dressing up to attend large outdoor gatherings. This was because up until the civil rights movement, people of color were prohibited from using public facilities. It was also common for former slaves and their descendants to take a trip to Galveston, Texas. There were also public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation.
How can I celebrate Juneteenth now?
Apart from traditional outdoor fun, experts say supporting Black-owned, local businesses is a good start and to educate yourself about Juneteenth’s significance to black communities. Also — celebrate alongside the community.
Local Juneteenth events
There are also several virtual town hall meetings and events on Friday, June 19 locally to observe and celebrate Juneteenth. Here’s a list:
- Beck Cultural Exchange Center Juneteenth Town Hall Meeting, join the webinar that begins at 4 p.m.
- Black in Appalachia Juneteenth Celebration at Cherokee Park in Morristown from 6 to 10 p.m.
- Black Lives Matter Knoxville‘s Freedom Rally at Caswell Park in Knoxville from 6 to 9:30 p.m.
Event organizers say to remember to wear a mask and try to maintain social distancing guidelines due to COVID-19.