Slacker’s Syllabus: Juneteenth

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Local residents attend a celebration to mark Juneteenth, the traditional commemoration date of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States at Leimert Park, in Los Angeles on June 19, 2021.

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In 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday.

Juneteenth is the first national holiday established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

It came after the summer of 2020 saw nationwide protests spurred by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others.

But what is Juneteenth about?

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Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas.

The order stated that “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Why was Granger’s order needed?

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Many think Lincoln’s order freed all enslaved people. But it only applied to states that had seceded from the U.S.

In those states, freeing enslaved people on paper didn’t necessarily translate to real life. Many rebellious states resisted Lincoln’s order, including Texas.

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That means the last slaves weren’t free in Texas until Granger informed them of their freedom on June 19, 1865.

Meet the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.”

Texans have kept Juneteenth alive for generations. Opal Lee grew up celebrating it in Marshall, Texas.

Lee campaigned for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday for decades.

She even walked from Forth Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., figuring “maybe, if an old lady started out, somebody would take notice.”

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Unity, freedom is what Juneteenth is all about. So I decided that I would walk from Fort Worth to Washington D.C., doing two and a half miles in the morning and two and a half in the afternoon to symbolize that in Texas, the enslaved didn’t know they were free for two and a half years after everybody else.

There’s no single way to celebrate Juneteenth.

Galveston, Texas, holds annual Juneteenth parades. Other communities may have block parties or commemorate the day with big meals or pageants.

Food and drink varies, too, although barbecue is a popular option. You might notice red is a popular color choice.

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Juneteenth doesn’t feel fixed like July 4th. July 4th feels fixed in 1776, whereas Juneteenth always feels fluid and always willing to be adaptable to the incoming and upcoming generations. It always feels relevant to this continuous quest and fight for freedom and equality.