Is Juneteenth still relevant?

May 29, 2013

Now that Memorial Day has passed, another holiday started by former slaves, Texans and other communities around the country are starting to plan for Juneteenth. Since 1866, the year after news that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation was read by General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Juneteenth has been celebrated widely in Texas — its state of origin — Oklahoma and other cities.

But is it still relevant? In “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory” by Elizabeth Hayes Turner from Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas, Turner wrote:

“The annual reminder of slavery’s end in Texas cannot be understood as merely the recollections of a minority people; whites and many ethnic groups share this common history…Juneteenth celebrations…have always held meaning and historical memory for blacks.”

The Texas State Historical Association writes:

“Juneteenth declined in popularity in the early 1960s, when the civil-rights movement, with its push for integration, diminished interest in the event. In the 1970s African Americans’ renewed interest in celebrating their cultural heritage led to the revitalization of the holiday throughout the state. At the end of the decade Representative Al Edwards, a Democrat from Houston, introduced a bill calling for Juneteenth to become a state holiday. The legislature passed the act in 1979, and Governor William P. Clements, Jr., signed it into law. The first state-sponsored Juneteenth celebration took place in 1980.

“Juneteenth has also had an impact outside the state. Black Texans who moved to Louisiana and Oklahoma have taken the celebration with them. In 1991 the Anacostia Museum of the Smithsonian Institution sponsored “Juneteenth ’91, Freedom Revisited,” featuring public speeches, African-American arts and crafts, and other cultural programs. There, as in Texas, the state of its origin, Juneteenth has provided the public the opportunity to recall the milestone in human rights the day represents for African Americans.

At the University of Texas at Austin and in the greater Austin community there will be festivities marking the occasion, before and after the actual day, Wednesday, June 19th. Will you commemorate the holiday? If so, how? Let us know:

City of Austin photo of an early Juneteenth celebration


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