What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is thought be the oldest holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Sometimes falsely thought to be in recognition of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Juneteenth, or Jubilee Day, is a celebration of the end of slavery in Texas, when a Union Army General declared General Order No. 3 in 1865. The first observations of Juneteenth date to 1866, when African Americans gathered together to celebrate their freedom. Throughout the 20th century in many parts of the country, Juneteenth began taking the form of large outdoor events, replete with music and food, transforming the holiday into a cultural celebration.
The importance of Juneteenth in the context of American history is increasingly being recognized by state governments across the United States. As of 2020, 47 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. In 2018, the United States senate passed a simple resolution recognizing Juneteenth, though fell short of making it a national holiday.
Why is it important to celebrate it now?
For many members of the Black community, Juneteenth is a time of community and joy. Food is often an integral part of coming together and celebrating, as three Black chefs articulate in a 2020 article from Bon Appétit magazine. Juneteenth also represents a time in which, as a nation, we are called to examine the discrimination that Black people face in the United States in the present day. By celebrating Juneteenth, we celebrate the joy and vitality of the Black community while honoring the generations of African Americans who struggled to gain their freedom and recognizing that there is still so much work to do to achieve true equality.
Update: As of June 16th, 2021, the United States Congress has passed a bill that would make Juneteenth the 12th federally recognized holiday. The bill is expected to be signed into law by President Biden.