If you watched last night’s episode of Atlanta, then you heard Monique (Cassandra Freeman) greet Earn (Donald Glover) and Van (Zazie Beetz) with a resounding “Happy Juneteenth!” But what is it?
First, you will be happy to know that Juneteenth isn’t celebrated like anything portrayed in Atlanta, as the show is a satire and uses Juneteenth as the backdrop to speak about classism in the Black community. Second, Juneteenth is a neglected but extremely important holiday in American history that commemorates the day that all slaves in the United States were finally freed.
We often attribute January 1, 1863, the day that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation finally became official, as the day that slaves were finally freed from their bondage. But, if you thought the Confederate soldiers were ready to relinquish their beloved slavery that easy, you are wrong. For several reasons, the technically “free” slaves did not receive word of their freedom and thus, were still working on plantations without receiving compensation for their work.
It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, two months after General Robert E. Lee officially surrendered, and two months after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the last slaves at Galveston, Texas were told the news of their emancipation. Major General Gordon Granger and some of his Union soldiers rode into Texas. There, he read to the slaves General Order #3, which stated:
“The people are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, become that between employer and hired labor. The freed are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
However, we do not speak much about this day in American history. In the 1900s, classrooms and textbooks associated the end of slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation and neglected the two-and-a-half-year gap between then and when the last slave was freed. Furthermore, due to the economy at the time, many Black Americans moved to large cities in search of work and bosses did not want to grant a day off to those who wished to celebrate the holiday. We saw a resurgence of Juneteenth during the Civil Rights movement. To this day, Texas is the only state to officially recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday, although many other Black communities in several states have celebrations.
Hopefully, more states officially recognize the holiday as it’s important not only for Black Americans, but the entire U.S. It marked the official end of the country’s horrendous use of slavery. If you would like to know how the holiday is usually celebrated in the Black community, pass by one of the many celebrations or family BBQs that people have to commemorate it. It isn’t at all like how it’s portrayed in Atlanta, but a celebration of culture, history, and the achievements of Black people in the U.S.