Juneteenth: The History and Its Relevance Today

Emily Derrenbacker, Writer - The Reporter

With racial injustice at the forefront of current news and discussions, Juneteenth is especially prominent this year. June 19 celebrates the day that the emancipation of all slaves had finally infiltrated the confederate states, but understanding the historical meaning of Juneteenth and how it is still relevant today is important as society tries to solve the racism which has persisted in this country for centuries. 


The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in January 1863, in the middle of the Civil War. It declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” But it took a long time for the order to actually go into effect. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that news of the emancipation had finally reached all of the Confederate states. The last state to receive the news was Texas, the western most slave-holding state. We now call this day “Juneteenth” to commemorate the day when all of the slaves were finally released from bondage. 


The topic of Juneteenth has been prominent throughout media coverage as President Donald Trump originally had a campaign rally set for June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Holding a rally on such a prominent date as well as holding it in Tulsa generated criticism amid contention over the Black Lives Matter movement and the killing of George Floyd. The Tulsa race massacre of 1921 was the site of one of the worst occurrences of racist violence in our nation’s history when the black residents of Tulsa were subjected to a massacre by a racist mob using guns and explosives. 


According to The New York Times, President Trump conceded and moved the date of the rally to the following day, explaining that he had not known the meaning of June 19 and that, “the fact that I’m having a rally on that day, you can really think about that very positively as a celebration.” But it’s important to remember that the reason that Juneteenth is so significant this year is because it is a day to acknowledge not only all of the progress that has been made, but also a reminder that more progress needs to take place. 


The fact that it took two years from when the emancipation was signed to when all slaves were freed parallels the problems we are still seeing in our country today. Slavery was abolished in 1865 and segregation has ended, but freedom and justice have continued to be withheld from black Americans. 


Forbes states that currently, “46 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth in some capacity as a holiday or official observance,” but many say that the establishment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is long overdue. 


In the last few decades, color blindness has become a common assertion among white people that the United States has moved beyond racism and that racial privilege no longer exists. The Washington Post surveyed parents and found that, “most also viewed themselves and their children as race-less.” However, color blindness can be harmful when it causes one to turn a blind eye toward racism that is still inherent in American society. This is why it’s critical that we reflect on the meaning of Juneteenth in the midst of today’s Black Lives Matter movement because it shows that despite the advances made, the fight isn’t over.