As we prepare to celebrate Juneteenth (also known as Freedom Day) on June 19, I am sharing the following piece my good friend Dr. Artika Tyner wrote for her regular column, Planting Seeds, featured in the Twin Cities publication, “The Monitor.” These are facts all Americans need to know as they are an integral part of our history.
Through her organization, Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, Dr. Tyner seeks to plant the seeds of social change through three crucial components: education, training and community outreach. She is an accomplished author, educator, civil rights attorney, speaker and activist.
6 Key Facts You Need to Know About Juneteenth
by Dr. Artika Tyner, EdD, MPP, JD
Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom. This momentous occasion is an opportunity to pause, reflect and grow, while renewing our commitment to the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.
Fact #1: When and where was Juneteenth first celebrated?
Juneteenth is a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth.” On June 19, 1865, Federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to share with enslaved African Americans that they were free from the bondage of slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation granted them this freedom in 1863. U.S. General Gordon Granger announced, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” The dream of freedom was finally realized for 250,000 enslaved people. They began to rejoice, and this was the beginning of a celebration that we now call: Juneteenth.
Fact #2: Who is known as the grandmother of Juneteenth?
Opal Lee is known as the grandmother of Juneteenth. At the age of 89 years old, she launched Opal’s Walk 2 D.C. Her goal was to walk from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C. in order to raise national awareness about making Juneteenth a national holiday. She initially set forth to garner the support of 100,000 petitioners to achieve this goal. Over 1.5 million people joined with Ms. Lee and signed the petition. Ms. Lee believes Juneteenth can unite others and inspire change. “I am hoping that Juneteenth will not just be about festivals, but it will be about uplifting each other,” Lee said.
Fact #3: When did Juneteenth become a national holiday?
Juneteenth was first recognized as a state holiday in Texas in 1980. Juneteenth was declared a national holiday in 2021. The legislation was passed by Congress on June 16, 2021, and signed into law by U.S. President Joe Biden. In President Biden’s 2022 Juneteenth address, he stated: “Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation and a promise of a brighter morning to come.”
Fact #4: What is the Juneteenth flag?
The original Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by Ben Haith, the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF).
- The Arc: This marks the beginning of a new chapter in history for the Black community.
- The Star: The white star in the middle represents Texas, the Lone Star state, where Juneteenth was founded. It also celebrates the freedom of African Americans across the United States.
- The Burst: This burst outlines the star. It serves as a reminder of a new beginning and a promise of freedom for generations to come.
Fact #5: Why is Juneteenth associated with the color red?
The color red honors the countless lives lost due to racial terrorism during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Civil War, Jim Crow era, and still yet today. Juneteenth menus include red desserts like watermelon and red velvet cake. Red drinks made of hibiscus (or bissap) are also a favorite beverage. This drink has a connection to the African American community’s Western African roots.
Fact #6: What are ways to celebrate Juneteenth?
Start by learning more about Black History. You can begin by learning more about Black History Month. This short trivia can be used to begin the learning journey:
- Who founded Black History Month? During each of my Black History Month school visits, I start with this question. I have yet to hear a correct answer from students, parents, or teachers. I received a range of answers from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Rosa Parks. One student even shouted: St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. It is wonderful to see these remarkable heroes and sheroes highlighted. However, it demonstrates the need to learn about the origins of Black History Month and its significance. It was founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson with the launch of Negro History Week in 1926. His goal was to celebrate and honor Black achievements and build a legacy of change.
- Why is Black History Month celebrated in February? Dr. Woodson selected the month of February since it is the birth month of two individuals whom he deeply admired. They were President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass who both played a role in abolishing slavery. Historically, celebrations were held on their birthdays which are the 12th (Lincoln) and 14th (Douglass). Woodson wanted to create a bridge between this tradition and establish a practice of honoring the past contributions of the Black community.
- Support local Black-owned businesses. Do you need new books for your summer reading list? Stop by Strive Bookstore and Babycake’s Book Stack. Would you like a sweet treat? Visit Lutunji’s Palate and enjoy her peach cobbler. Would you prefer a donut instead? Try The Donut Trap. With each purchase, you are helping to rebuild and bolster the Black ecosystem. This is vitally important when Black-owned businesses are under-resourced due to a lack of access to capital and funding. According to Pew Research, “Just 3% of U.S. businesses were identified as Black or African American-owned as of 2020. That’s despite 12.4% of the overall population being Black adults.”
- Host a community barbecue and serve a red drink and red dessert. This is an opportunity to bring family and friends together to celebrate freedom’s journey by learning about Juneteenth. Explore the question: “Why is Juneteenth known as the United States’ second Independence Day?”
- Inspire your co-workers, friends, and family to work toward racial justice. This is a daily commitment to realize the dreams of enslaved African Americans. They had an unwavering hope for the future that the next generations would be able to not only survive but thrive. How can you promote better educational outcomes for all children? How can you ensure pay equity and equal access to opportunities in your workplace? With a projected Racial Wealth Gap that will take over two centuries to bridge, how can you help to advance economic justice in the Black community?
My daily affirmation is I am the dream of my ancestors. I embody these words by writing for justice. I have written 35 books that focus on Black history and showcase the leadership profiles of Black heroes and sheroes. I am excited to announce the release of my latest books in the Black Achievements series that focus on Black leaders in STEM, activism, and politics (Lerner Publishing). You can find these books and my Juneteenth reading list at: https://bookshop.org/lists/juneteenth-365