Op-Ed: Juneteenth, as American as Sweet Potato Pie! – In the last few years there has been increased conversation about the celebration of one of America’s oldest unofficial holidays: Juneteenth. What exactly is this American Holy Day?
Juneteenth, a combination of June and the nineteenth, memorializes the last American citizens being released from the bondages of slavery via the Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (September 22, 1862) only freed enslaved Americans in some Confederate territories. Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland, the newly created West Virginia, and the southernmost parishes of Louisiana by and large continued with “legal” slavery for six additional months after Juneteenth was proclaimed, ending the practice with the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865.
On June 19, 1865, the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation became officially announced and enforced in the last Union occupied territory of the Confederacy, Texas, with General Order No. 3, issued by United States Army General Gordon Granger. The order reads:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
By order of Major General Granger”
While this holy day has only recently gained mainstream attention, in a great many American Black households, communities, schools, and certainly Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) June 19 has been celebrated with cookouts, parties, storytelling, and a spread of soul food, which is nearly always finished off with Sweet Potato Pie, a desert which predates Apple Pie in America. Prior to 2000, only four states recognized Juneteenth: Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, and Minnesota. Between 2000 and 2009, thirty states enacted legislation recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday and at present only North Dakota and South Dakota do not.
On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act making the day a federal holiday, and both the City of Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois have enacted similar legislation making June 19 an official holiday at the municipal and state level. This has drawn the ire of some Americans unaware of the history, but the celebration has occurred for well over half of American history.
Juneteenth is the quintessential American holiday. We are a nation – that from its founding – celebrates freedom from bondage and tyranny and that loudly proclaims and celebrates that all our citizens are free with “absolute equality of personal rights and property,” and these celebrations should be encouraged.
Juneteenth transcends race, color, ancestral origin, religion, and creed. It unites us in celebrating the very reason France gifted the United States the Statue of Liberty. Juneteenth celebrates Dr. King’s words “Free at last,” Patrick Henry’s proclamation “Give me liberty,” and is the fulfillment of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
This year on June 19, 2021, as free and patriotic Americans let us show the world what Liberty and Equality really mean, with all the fever and excitement that defines America.
Have a safe, blessed, and most of all – Happy Juneteenth!
Devin Jones is the Republican 18th Ward Committeeman
Op-Ed: Juneteenth, as American as Sweet Potato Pie!