June 19th, otherwise known as Juneteenth, is a nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended and enslaved people were free. I can only imagine the emotions: fear, uncertainty, joy, hope, that the enslaved people felt on that day in 1865. The DNA of my own children show roots in slavery. Their DNA can be traced back to West Africa and their ancestors were likely brought to Virginia and the Carolinas as part of the slave trade. Likely they were moved to places such as Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Perhaps one of their ancestors learned of their rightful, although probably not immediate, freedom in Galveston, Texas.
While June 19, 1865 is an important date, freedom wasn’t immediate nor was it easy. “On plantations, masters had to decide when and how to announce the news – or wait for a government agent to arrive – and it was not uncommon for them to delay until after the harvest” (Gates, para. 6). Enslaved persons were often whipped, shot, and hung for trying to escape. Juneteenth now represents a quest for freedom, but freedom has never been easy or complete. I hope that one day my children will get to hear stories from their birth families about the courageousness of the family member who decided it was time to leave. Were they allowed to leave or did they run in the dead of night? Where did they go? What brought them north?
As I read about Juneteenth, I envision enslaved people quietly singing while working and preparing a meal in celebration of a proclaimed freedom—a freedom that still today isn’t entirely complete, but is remembered with traditions that are alive still today on Juneteenth. Barbecuing is one way in which today’s African Americans “share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors – the newly emancipated African Americans, would have experienced during their ceremonies (“History of Juneteenth,” para. 7). Today, Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the freedoms, achievements, and culture of African Americans.
Below are some Juneteenth celebrations happening across Michigan in 2021. If you are looking to learn more or get involved, check one of these out.
Detroit: Juneteenth Jubilee Stroll
Lansing: Juneteenth Celebration and Parade
Grand Rapids: Justice 4 All Juneteenth Jam 2021
Ferndale: Juneteenth Celebration
Gates, Jr., H. (n.d.). The African Americans Many Rivers To Cross. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-is-juneteenth/
History of Juneteenth. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://juneteenth.com/history/