The Significance of Juneteenth Between History and Today

BY KIERNAN McCARTY 

Last week’s national Juneteenth celebrations highlight the prevalence of Black achievement and progress throughout the nation. Named for its combination of “June” and “19th,” Juneteenth marks a deeply integral part of American history. It has been a federally recognized holiday since 2021, but it’s been an annual worldwide celebration since its beginning in 1865.

The Salina Juneteenth Celebration Committee has been putting on its own annual festival since 2007 and this year was its first year back in the swing of things since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Juneteenth is a real independence day, as Wichita City Councilman, Brandon Johnson, mentioned to KWCH12 news story

“Kansas governor signs proclamation recognizing Juneteenth as holiday in state” this year,” Johnson said to KWCH. “This holiday serves as a day to recognize and honor the achievements of Black Americans made against all odds of having to face harsh conditions of persisting racial prejudice and discrimination.

There’s a much deeper intention to be appreciated when celebrating the Black community’s prosperity. It’s about feeding the community. It’s about educating the community. It’s about promoting health and safety. It’s about sharing joy in a collective experience. It’s about overcoming great obstacles and looking forward to future prosperity. 

Jackie Anders is the founder of Salina’s Juneteenth festival. In an interview she did this year, with Charles Rankin for the Salina Journal, she noted that the amount of Black historical information that is available to you depends on where you live. Growing up in Salina, she was taught about black history only on a very basic level. However, there is a much richer Black history that paints every corner of the U.S. to make this country what it is today. 

The unfortunate reality is that the history of local race relations in a place like Hays requires the acknowledgment of disturbing and tragic truths. Yet due to this, it’s arguably even more important for white members of the community to make the conscious effort to learn and talk about the real local experiences of Black community members. Avoidance and denial of the realities that built the foundation of our community may only set us on a path to repeating such history, which was so often a past of violence and discrimination. 

Salina Public Library published information on educational opportunities and local festivities that are available to the public for this year’s Juneteenth commemoration. Further readings and resources on past and future Juneteenth celebrations can be found here.

History of Juneteenth

The 13th Amendment, which prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude except in the case of punishment for crimes, went into effect after being officially passed by Congress on January 31, 1865. Still, It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that marked the day which General Gordan Granger was sent out to deliver “General Order Number 3” to notify enslaved people in Galveston, Texas–who were still wrongfully kept unaware of the abolishment of slavery–that they were officially granted freedom from slavery. 

Author, Chris Simkins, for Voice of America, provides us more historical insight in his 2022 publication, “US Observes Juneteenth National Holiday,” noting: 

“While Juneteenth is celebrated as the end of slavery, the practice of involuntary servitude continued briefly in the states of Delaware and Kentucky. On December 6, 1865, ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States.” 

Simkins’ article discusses both the historical and modern significance of Juneteenth for America, noting how the celebration has taken on a “new meaning for some in the Black community,” following the murder of George Floyd and protests in 2020, coupled with growing support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

In a short YouTube video posted by History, Professor Marcia Chatelain, a historian of African American life and culture at Georgetown University, gives a synopsis of the historical significance of Juneteenth, and makes this connection to its modern relevance saying:

“Although Juneteenth celebrates the knowledge that slavery had ended, it’s important to remember that the conditions that mirrored slavery–whether it was Jim Crow or the suppression of civil rights or the continued struggles to fight racism–those continued long after the end of slavery and so the Juneteenth holiday reminds us of where we’ve come and it also inspires us to think about the places we want to go.” 

The effort to learn and engage within the community will help to break down the barriers that hold us back from increasing diversity of the population. It also opens up opportunities to foster inclusivity, which is important for making community members feel at home in Hays. 

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