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Juneteenth
The Day Slaves Learned They Were Free

Juneteenth
Like elsewhere, in New Orleans African-Americans celebrate Juneteenth with barbecues and picnics, with family and church gatherings that strengthen community bonds

The 19th of June is known as Juneteenth, an African-American holiday begun at the end of slavery days. Its origins are Texan, not Louisianan, but Juneteenth has long had strong roots in the South and has since spread all over the country as a time for African-Americans to commemorate their freedom and accomplishments.

President Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to slaves in Confederate states, on New Year’s Day in 1863. Word didn’t reach the African-American slaves of Galveston, Texas, until June 19, 1865, when a force of two-thousand Union soldiers arrived and informed them of their freedom. Although news indeed did travel slowly in those days, two and a half years is a long time; historians suspect Texas slaveholders knew of the proclamation and chose not to free their slaves until they were forced to.

The African-Americans of Galveston began an annual observance of Juneteenth which over the years spread to other areas and grew in popularity. Early Juneteenth celebrations were picnics at churches and in rural areas with barbecues, horseback riding, fishing, and more. The early 20th century saw a weakening of the holiday’s observance due to African-American migration to urban centers, the national celebration of Independence Day just a few weeks later, and the preference of white historians to emphasize the Emancipation Proclamation over Juneteenth as a date to mark the end of slavery. Although some activists objected that holiday’s associations with slavery were too backward-looking, Juneteenth’s visibility rose again during the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and 60s, and its resurgence continues all over the country

Like elsewhere, in New Orleans African-Americans celebrate Juneteenth with barbecues and picnics, with family and church gatherings that strengthen community bonds. Other events include jazz concerts and speaking engagements emphasizing African-American empowerment, education, and achievement. To participate in Juneteenth festivities, check listings in local newspapers or online as the next June 19th approaches.

 
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