CHAMPION STRATEGIES – PUBLIC SPEAKING WORKSHOP – JUNE 15, 2021
Juneteenth: The 156-year-old holiday’s history explained
How the celebrations evolved and spread
In 1866, freed slaves in Texas marked June 19 with anniversary celebrations that included prayer services and church gatherings in the Black community.
Over subsequent years, former slaves and their families continued celebrating their freedom with annual Juneteenth celebrations that also featured former slaves delivering inspirational speeches and reading from the Emancipation Proclamation. It marked a day for “grass-roots celebration highlighted by joyous singing, pig roasts, and rodeos,” according to Smithsonian Magazine.
In a 2007 essay titled “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory,” historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner wrote about former slaves and their descendants who continued celebrating the Juneteenth holiday for generations after 1865.
One descendant of slaves recounted in that essay how Juneteenth celebrations sometimes included homemade pyrotechnics: ”‘My daddy told me that they whooped and hollered and bored holes in trees with augers and stopped it up with [gun] powder and light and that would be their blast for the celebration.’”
In 1872, a group of former Texas slaves collected more than $800 to buy 10 acres of open land, near what is now Houston, to use for annual Juneteenth celebrations. They named the parcel Emancipation Park, and it remains the oldest public park in the state.
As newly-freed Texas slaves began resettling across the country, as part of The Great Migration of former slaves, the tradition of Juneteenth celebrations also spread to new locales across the South and the rest of the U.S. over the next century.
However, especially during the post-Civil War Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, former Confederate states had little inclination to recognize Juneteenth, according to Smithsonian Magazine. As such, the “grass-roots” aspect of Juneteenth celebrations was often the norm well into the 20th Century, which contributed to the Juneteenth holiday regularly going unnoticed by Americans outside of the Black community. It is still rarely mentioned in school curricula. As a result, “this monumental event remains largely unknown to most Americans,” the National Museum of African American History & Culture notes.
Juneteenth remained a major celebration for the Black community in Texas, however. In 1938, Texas designated a day of observance for Juneteenth celebrations, called Emancipation Day, two years after up to 200,000 people turned out for Juneteenth celebrations in Dallas.
Still, Juneteenth did not become an official state holiday in Texas until 1980 and the state’s government offices do not close for the holiday.