Why is there a holiday called Juneteenth on my iPhone? What’s this I am hearing about another Independence Day? We hope that a little history will help, and we’ll get to that later in this post.
TLDR; Juneteenth marks the date enslaved people in Texas were informed of their emancipation (June 19, 1865), two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863). And while it’s been celebrated in Black communities for generations, many Americans are just hearing about it (especially if they caught that amazing episode of Blackish).
“I know that it happened January 1. It wasn’t Juneteenth. Juneteenth was when the last of us found out… We were free, we are free, and we need to celebrate that.” –Debra Hester, Mother of IMVU user @LeiaLotus
Watch an excerpt of an important wide-ranging conversation with IMVU user @LeiaLotus, her mother and her grandfather about the past and future of the Movement for Black Lives.
A Short History of Juneteenth
Many Americans learned in grade school that on January 1, 1863, “the Great Emancipator” Abraham Lincoln issued the 719-word Emancipation Proclamation, ending 246 years of legal slavery in the United States (and the Confederacy). This, we learned, was a major milestone in the history of the country.
What many of us were not taught is that news of the Emancipation Proclamation was deliberately suppressed and many did not learn of their freedom for years. The news finally reached Galveston, Texas two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865. It was delivered by General Gordon Granger, who travelled with 1,800 Union soldiers, including a contingent of United States Colored Troops: “The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” Word spread quickly and soon the state’s 250,000 enslaved people knew that they were suddenly, legally, free.
The anniversary of the June 19 edict became Juneteenth — a spontaneous, jubilant holiday in Galveston a year later. The celebration spread throughout Texas, and eventually, the country. In her book, The Warmth of Other Suns (coming soon via Shonda Rhimes to Netflix), Isabel Wilkerson explains, “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went” during the second wave of the Great Migration, when more than five million black people left Texas and other previously slaveholding states for the North, Midwest and West Coast.
“Free At Last , But the Journey Continues” Artwork by @LeiaLotus with “Goodbye” from the Harriet Movie soundtrack as sung by herself and Via.
“The slaves’ prayer of freedom” Artwork by @Ntasha
Powerful Juneteenth video by @BLVKXVU feat. audio from Bishop TD Jakes
Celebrating Juneteenth Today
Today Juneteenth is commemorated across the country with a range of activities designed to celebrate and bring people together. Parades, festivals, and barbeques are just a few of the typical Juneteenth activities people enjoy. Prayer services, educational lectures and storytelling are also a part of the celebration, (which can be done with social distancing in mind).
This year, more attention is turning to the holiday following the global protests sparked by the murders of George Floyd and other Black Americans. At IMVU, we think it’s important to continuously educate ourselves about important issues and share what we’ve learned with our community. We’ve compiled a page of resources to better understand race in America and see how racism still operates, and updated it with additional resources to learn more about Juneteenth.
“To build the future, we must face the past.” Artwork of & by @SierraMyst, @Ntasha @Blvkxvu @Zaigahar @LeiaLotus. Edit by @Zaigahar
We believe that Juneteenth is not only a day to honor and celebrate how far we’ve come as a nation towards a realization of the American principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all” — but a day to reflect on how far we still have to go.
On Black Futures
When IMVU asked the users showcased here to contribute to this blog post, we asked for images that conveyed Black dignity and Black excellence. They graciously accepted and made the powerful images and videos above in response. Afrofuturist user @Zaigahar also made this image that also highlights Black dreams and Black futures.