Juneteenth has been known by many names: National Independence Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day.
And now, as a national holiday.
President Joe Biden, June 17, 2021, officially recognized Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, as a national holiday. The University of Central Oklahoma is displaying its unconditional support of this momentous recognition by declaring Juneteenth a paid university holiday, beginning in 2022.
“By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history, and celebrate progress, and grapple with the distance we’ve come but the distance we have to travel to,” Biden said. “Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we’ve made.”
The history of Juneteenth began in 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
News and information spread much slower then. Juneteenth became a celebration for enslaved people, because it was the date that Gen. Gordon Granger of the U.S. Army proclaimed the end of bondage June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas. African American folklore has also developed other explanations for the importance of that date. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, one story described a Black former Union soldier who brought word of freedom by mule to the trans-Mississippi South and announced the news in Oklahoma, June 19, 1865.
For many in the Black community, Juneteenth has become a day to commemorate emancipation with family gatherings, music and food. Community groups in Tulsa and Oklahoma City also host festivals and concerts to celebrate the holiday.
While growing up in Northeast Tulsa, Oklahoma, MeShawn Green, UCO Inclusive Community Advocate, said Juneteenth events were prominent.
“For myself, and for many in the community I grew up in, it was a moment to recognize the resiliency of the Black community,” Green said. “And how could a moment be more fitting than Juneteenth where the very proclamation that was issued to free enslaved Black Americans wasn’t delivered to the Texas community until two years later. And yet, through the horrendous trials and tribulation, there has been success and advancement.”
UCO professor Marc Goulding, Ph.D., teaches courses on African diaspora, imperial/decolonization and United States history, as well as courses on Black power movements and theories of nationalism.
“We as a country are very slow to live up to our problematic history,” Goulding said. “But courageous protest movements like Black Lives Matter and other organizations are changing public consciousness.”
Green said she feels an official national acknowledgment in the form of a national holiday will further and expand the conversation.
“The continued discussion of the plight of Black Americans, and many historically marginalized, populations need to be continually shared and discussed,” Green said. “It is these discussions that center the “why” for the injustices that are experienced today and understanding the historical significance provides great insight.
“What I hope is that we continue to learn of the history of not only Juneteenth but of the many historical occurrences that have impacted marginalized communities. It is then important that we, every day, commit equity and creating spaces of inclusivity and belonging.”
In recent years, Goulding said he has seen an increase in interest from his students wanting to learn about important Black history events.
“I think there is a growing consciousness not just in Juneteenth but in Black history itself,” Goulding said. “People across the board are saying ‘Wait a minute.’ We are here at this juncture in our country where people want to know more about the Tulsa Race Massacre, Clara Luper sit-ins and Juneteenth.”
Here is a look at different celebrations happening throughout the Oklahoma City metro this year:
- Juneteenth Outdoor Concert – June 19
- Blooming into Juneteenth With Gapelii Brand Fashion Show – June 19
- Juneteenth on the East – June 19-20
- Norman Juneteenth Festival – June 19
Learn more about the significance of Juneteenth through these resources:
- PBS – “African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross“
- NBC – “What to Know About Juneteenth, the Emancipation Holiday”
- Smithsonian Magazine – “Juneteenth: Our Other Independence Day“
- TIME Magazine – “A Brief History of Juneteenth”