Beyond Emancipation: The history of Juneteenth

Juneteenth is the day commemorating the freedom of the last slaves in the United States.

Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, is celebrated annually on June 19 across the United States. The date has immense historical importance as it signifies the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the former Confederate States of America on June 19, 1865. The date, mostly celebrated by African Americans, is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the U.S.

On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger led Union soldiers to Galveston, Texas where he read historic General Order Number 3 which granted African Americans freedom, equality of rights, including rights to property. The significance of this order is that it was read two years after President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation. It would be many more years, however, before formerly enslaved African Americans and their descendants received the human rights and civil liberties due to them through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Cultivators and curators of art, folklore, literature, music, food, fashion, policy, agriculture, science, technology, medicine, sports and more, African Americans have contributed to American culture for many centuries. Juneteenth celebrations focused on that! As mentioned on Juneteenth.com, festivities surrounding Juneteenth include coming together in prayer, jubilee and enjoying popular cultural foods and drinks centered around barbecues. Celebrations also include rodeos, fishing, baseball games, speakers and discussions focused on education, self-development and more. Modern Juneteeth celebrations continue with many of the same elements.

Additionally, Juneteeth is celebrated through sharing heritage through literature. During slavery, it was illegal to teach slaves how to read or write, though many did learn and secretly taught others how to do so, jeopardizing their wellbeing and often their lives.

Interested in learning more about the history of Juneteeth or African American culture and heritage? Check out the “Juneteenth & African American Literature” booklist compiled by Charlotte Mecklenburg Library that features books, ebooks and audiobooks highlighting the beauty and joy of African American culture.