What is Juneteenth?
When we think of the end of slavery in our nation, most of us think of President Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 during the Civil War. Or maybe we think of the end of that war when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. For our information-driven world, it’s reasonable to think that the word spread quickly and that was the end of chattel slavery in the U.S. However, history has a way of undermining our assumptions.
The reality was, for many black enslaved people in the U.S., the end didn’t really come until two months later on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, TX when Major General Gordon Granger brought General Order Number 3 to the people there. Those in Texas may have heard of Robert E. Lee’s surrender, but many were still hanging on to the vestiges of slavery. General Granger’s arrival and proclamation in Galveston put the final nail in the coffin, freeing those still weighed down by that system of oppression.
In response to this announcement, freed enslaved people spread the word that they were finally free. What started as a local celebration in Galveston and other communities in Texas has spread across the nation and is now a national holiday. The push to make Juneteenth a national holiday was decades in the making, but thanks to the efforts of our last two presidents, Congress passed Public Law 117-17 (PDF) and President Biden signed it into law on June 17, 2021. Because of this holiday’s status, the library board voted to close the library June 19 in observance of this celebration. So be sure to stop in on June 18th or before to learn more about Juneteenth celebrations and stock up on your favorite reads, movies, games, and music.
How to Celebrate
Some may wonder what we can do to celebrate this holiday and honor those who slavery affected. Here are some easy ways to do that.
Get involved. Thanks to the initiative of some local citizens, Salina started its very own Juneteenth Celebration in 2007. Organized by the Salina Juneteenth Celebration Committee, this year’s festivities start on Friday, June 17, and wrap up on Saturday, June 18. The committee’s mission states: “The purpose of the Juneteenth Celebration is to promote the elimination of racism and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of African-American history and culture.” Be sure to visit the website to see a list of all of the events. You can also purchase tickets and support this local organization from the website if you desire to do so.
Learn about it. One of the best ways to honor this day is to learn about slavery in America and how this day became so important. History means telling the truth from all perspectives, and this is a great way to honor those who were affected by the institution of slavery.
Here are some resources for young and old that can be checked out from our library.
For the history buffs:
- “On Juneteenth” by Annette Gordon-Reed–Part American history, part memoir, Gordon-Reed examines how slavery impacted our nation from the beginning, through Jim Crow, to now.
- “How the Word Is Passed” by Clint Smith–Smith takes the reader on a journey across America to some of the most important historical sites in the nation. He visits and discusses such sites as Monticello and Galveston, and many more, giving the reader an inside look at what these places mean to our nation’s history.
- “General Gordon Granger: The Story of Chickamauga and the Man Behind “Juneteenth” by Robert Connor–“By coming to the aid of Maj. Gen. Thomas–against orders–at the Battle of Chickamauga, Union Gen. Gordon Granger saved the Federal army from catastrophic defeat. Later, he played major roles in the Chattanooga and Mobile campaigns. Immediately after the war, as commander of US troops in Texas, his actions sparked the ‘Juneteenth’ celebrations of slavery’s end, which continue to this day.”
For documentary lovers:
Utilize the Kanopy streaming service (just use your library card to create a free account) to watch a series on the emancipation of Black Americans.
- Up From Slavery–”Up From Slavery” is a powerful, compelling and haunting 7-part documentary series that examines the history of slavery in America, from the arrival of the first African slaves through Nat Turner’s Rebellion to the Civil War and beyond.
- Emancipation Road–”The story of African Slavery in America started with the first permanent English Colony in the 17th century… and ended with the Civil War. But those two hundred and fifty years of struggle were just the beginning. The beginning of a journey down the long Emancipation Road…”
- America’s Long Struggle Against Slavery–“Survey the history of the American anti-slavery movement, from the dawn of the transatlantic slave trade during the late 15th century to the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and beyond. Professor Richard Bell’s 30 eye-opening episodes give you an up-close view of a venal institution and the people who fought against it, and who often paid for their courage with their lives.”
For the kids:
- “The Story of Juneteenth: an Interactive History Adventure” by Steven Otfinoski–“The Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War have brought an official end to slavery, yet some Southern slave owners are refusing to comply. The road to freedom is still long and hard for many African- Americans, but you’re not giving up. YOU CHOOSE offers multiple perspectives on history, supporting Common Core reading standards and providing readers a front-row seat to the past.”
- “All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom” by Angela Johnson–“Through the eyes of one little girl, All Different Now tells the story of the first Juneteenth, the day freedom finally came to the last of the slaves in the South. Since then, the observance of June 19 as African-American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond.”
- “Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth” by Alice Faye Duncan– “Through the story of Opal Lee’s determination and persistence, children ages 4 to 8 will learn: all people are created equal the power of bravery and using your voice for change the history of Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, and what it means today no one is free unless everyone is free fighting for a dream is worth the difficulty experienced along the way”
Regardless of how you spend your day on Juneteenth, I hope you take a moment to celebrate the end of a tragic part of our history.