Oh Juneteenth! Part 1

Published 10:48 am Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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This weekend we had many visitors to the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum from several countries who wanted to learn more about Washington’s African American history. It was an excellent opportunity to talk about the upcoming Juneteenth activities planned for Washington.

Washington celebrated its first Emancipation Day on January 3, 1863, with the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by a Union Officer in front of the Presbyterian Church on Gladden Street.

Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, is now a national holiday celebrated annually on June 19th to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States.

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, declared freedom for enslaved people in Confederate states. However, it took over two years for the news to reach enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas.

On June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and announced the end of slavery, effectively emancipating the remaining enslaved individuals in Texas. This momentous event became known as Juneteenth, a combination of “June” and “nineteenth.”

Juneteenth has become an occasion to honor ancestors, recognize their sacrifices, and celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black Americans. The holiday is marked by various activities such as parades, picnics, musical performances, historical reenactments and educational events, fostering a sense of community, unity and pride.

It offers an opportunity to educate and raise awareness about the history of slavery, the struggles endured by African Americans, and why Juneteenth was and is necessary.

Over the years, Juneteenth has gained increasing recognition and support at both the local and national levels. Recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday or observance, and dedicating resources to public events and educational initiatives will help us focus on equality, inclusion and social justice that are rights that African Americans have long fought for.

In 2021, Juneteenth was officially designated a federal holiday in the United States by President Joe Biden when he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.

Juneteenth is an occasion to honor the past, address present challenges and strive for a more inclusive and equitable future. It stands as a momentous celebration of freedom, resilience and the indomitable and faith filled spirit of the African American community.

As we commemorate Juneteenth, let us welcome the opportunity to learn and empathize by recognizing the significance of this historical event, and engaging in meaningful conversations and activities. There will be many opportunities to learn about Juneteenth in Beaufort County and I hope you will come to the many events planned to learn about, celebrate and enjoy this great day.

Next week I will share the many ways Juneteenth will be celebrated all over Washington.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.