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It’s A Celebration | Everything You Need to Know About Juneteenth
If you’re familiar at all with Galveston Beach, you probably know it for less than clear water, a newer amusement park, or even local seafood, but you probably don't think of it as the place where, two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Union General Gordan Granger announced to the last of America’s slaves (those living in the state of Texas) that they had been freed.
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While wording in the original decree actually encouraged former slaves to stay on as paid employees with current masters, violence & murder served as a warning to those who may have been apprehensive about setting out on their own, and in the case of Texas’ slaves, the news was likely kept under wraps; leading to the two and a half year gap between the day the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and the day slaves found out about the news.
According to sources including the Encyclopedia Britannica, it was 1980 when Texas declared Juneteenth an official state holiday. Across the nation, celebrations with food and family at the center occur to mark the date, a tradition with roots dating back to 1866, the year after slaves were (for the most part) unilaterally freed across the nation.
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In opposition to the segregation that persisted at the time, freed former slaves in Houston pooled together $700 for the purchase of 10 acres of land. This space would be called Emancipation Park, the only public park and pool for black people in the city from the 1870s - the 1950s. Still in existence today, the park served first as a central location where black citizens could gather and celebrate Juneteenth, their own independence day.
Opal Lee, whose name you probably don't know, but who should very well be the face of Juneteenth as it exists today, remembered a tragic part of her personal history tied to June 19th, and at 90 years old, made telling that part of her story her rallying cry as she sought out federal recognition for Juneteenth.
Walking a symbolic two and a half miles in cities across the nation, she lobbied out of “wanting the nation to be aware that Juneteenth is a unifier, it’s not just a black thing. Slaves didn't free themselves.”
Barak Obama, whose name you more than likely do know, co-sponsored legislation for federal observance of Juneteenth as a holiday when he was a Senator, back in 2006. In 2017, legislation was passed.
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We recommend time spent with loved ones and on initiatives you care about; maybe a viewing of Ava Duvernay’s 13th & When They See Us, both available on Netflix & both fantastic primers on interference into the lives of a free people - after Juneteenth.