It’s the oldest un-recognized observance in the nation today. “It really is our 4th of July Independence day and I just learned about it three years ago,” said Tequila Hall a 30ish African American woman from Bay St. Louis Mississippi. “We were not taught about Juneteenth in American history in grade school, explained Hall.
Hall is one of about 50 people who turned out for a recent Pre-Juneteenth celebration and educational forum. The event held earlier this month was sponsored by the Hancock County Mississippi NAACP.
Juneteenth, is also known as Freedom Day. “It’s a holiday that commemorates the June 19, 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and the emancipation of African-American slaves throughout the Confederate South,” said Event Guest Speaker Raymunda Barnes.
Barnes is Assistant Vice President of Pearl River Community College in Waveland Mississippi. He told the crowd gathered in a church community hall in Bay St. Louis, “It’s really a celebration of historic relevance. Juneteenth is black Independence day .”
Barnes said the Juneteenth observance was birthed in Texas. The significance there is Slaves in Texas didn’t receive word they had been freed until more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862.
Lincoln’s proclamation was to become effective January 1, 1863.
In the early 20th century, economic and political forces led to a decline in Juneteenth celebrations. From 1890 to 1908, Texas and all former Confederate states passed new constitutions or amendments that effectively disenfranchised blacks, excluding them from the political process.
White-dominated state legislatures passed Jim Crow laws imposing second-class status for African Americans. The Great Depression forced many blacks off farms and into the cities to find work. In these urban environments, African Americans had difficulty taking the day off to celebrate.
Texas and Oklahoma are the only two states that recognize Juneteenth as a legal holiday.
But more than 200 cities across the nation celebrate Juneteenth in some way, ranging from daylong festivals to even longer events.
“We need to remember our history and educate our youth about what the Juneteenth holiday is all about,” said Gregory Barabino President of the Hancock County Mississippi NAACP. “The educational forum the NAACP is hosting this evening is designed to do just that,” explained Barabino.
The official Juneteenth observance will be held across the nation on June 19th. An organization known as “The Helping Hands” will team up with the Hancock County NAACP to put on a Juneteenth celebration at Martin Luther King Park in Waveland, Mississippi Saturday June 17th. Organizer Clarence Harris said, “It will basically be a fun day for the family and an opportunity to meet local African American business owners.”
Harris said in addition to contemporary and gospel music there will be food and fun activities for children.
Juneteenth celebrations will also be held Saturday in Biloxi, Mississippi at John Henry Beck Park on Division Street. It will feature a basketball tournament, a poetry contest and live music.
In Gulfport, Mississippi at the Good Deeds Community Center on Madison Street the celebration will include a Juneteenth Fashion and Entertainment show labeled “Black & White.”