“Juneteenth” is a portmanteau of June and nineteen and a parlance of Black American structure. The moniker hails the date June 19, 1865—the day that enslaved Black people in Texas got the news that slavery was abolished.
Here’s the rub, slaves in America were legally freed on enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. For two and a half years, in an unabashed effort to continue the status quo— having unpaid labor to run their cotton fields and plantation homes—slave owners kept the information away from their so-called slaves. In short, Texas went rogue.
How did the government get the largest state to abide by the rules? They sent artillery and a general who wasn’t one for losing battles. When Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, soldiers in tow, he made three announcements called General Orders. In summary:
- General Orders, No.3: the most pertinent to Juneteenth, stated that “all slaves are free”.
- General Orders, No.4: All civil and military officers connected to the “so-called Confederate State” must report for parole and consider all of their acts and laws illegitimate.
- General Order, No. 5: All the cotton cultivated by free labor was to be shipped to New York or New Orleans by plantation owners.
Freed Black men and women now had the opportunity to choose: Stay with former slave owners, now obligated to pay wages as employer to employee. Go in search of family members sold in slavery and try to establish a unit. Embark on this new journey called freedom, come what may. Whatever their choice, on June 19, we celebrate the freedom to make a choice.
Ironically, Texas was the first to make Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980. And in June 2021, Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday. Celebrations today range from festivals to old-school cookouts with family and friends. Similar to the first held in 1866, it can essentially be a party with a menu of traditional soul food fare: Collard greens, smothered chicken, black-eyed peas, barbecue and strawberry soda.
Juneteenth celebrations can range from 5 people at the house, 50 people at a family reunion, to 50,000 people, like the major celebrations in hosted by the cities of Minneapolis and, Los Angeles. Honoring the day is an exercise in Black love and an offering to our ancestors. On June 19, give thanks that today we have great liberties. Just remember that we’re not free until all of us are free.
HOST A JUNETEENTH PARTY!
Create your own celebration of remembrance and music; have everyone bring a dish to the barbecue and dance. Here are succulent soul food ideas based on tradition. Barbecue and strawberry soda (or red-colored drinks) make your Juneteenth menu.
- Barbecue beef or pork brisket
- Smothered chicken
- Collard greens
- Black eye-eyed peas
- Red rice
- Peach cobbler
- Red velvet cake
- Strawberry soda
- Sweet tea
Give your Juneteenth playlist a theme of fun and freedom. Here are some suggestions of songs that represent the souls of Black folks.
- “Juneteenth Jamboree,” Gladys “Fatso” Bentley
- “Living In Vain,” The Clarke Sisters
- “A Change is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke
- “Redemption Song,” Bob Marley
- “Free,” Prince
- "Lovely Day," Bill Withers
- “Feelin’ Good,” Nina Simone
- “Three Little Birds,” Bob Marley
- “Say it Loud,” James Brown
- “Golden,” Jill Scott
- “UMI Says,” Mos Def
- “Freedom,” Golden Gate Quartet
- “Proud To Be Black,” Run DMC
- “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Ray Charles
- “Young, Gifted and Black,” Roberta Flack or Aretha Franklin
- “I Be No Gentleman,” Fela Kuti
- “Shining Star,” Earth Wind & Fire
- “Free," Deniece Williams
In Athens, Texas, Juneteenth is celebrated with a rodeo of Black cowboys; Galveston, Texas has an annual parade; Richmond, California has big multicultural dance party. But if you’re hosting at home or on picnic grounds with your family, give this barbecue a little more fire with the following additional activities.
- Read the Emancipation Proclamation.
- Read General Order No. 3 and discuss.
- Have everyone bring a symbol of freedom
- Sing spiritual music that honors the ancestors.
- Play an African-American trivia game.
- Have fun line dancing
- Read some poetry by your favorite Black poets.