What is Juneteenth?



The History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth, also known as Black Independence Day, is a celebration of the day (June 19th, 1865) former slaves in Galveston, Texas were informed of their freedom. While the tradition is most richly observed in Galveston and nearby Houston, many Black people observe it as a holiday around the country and even around the world.

Free on Paper

On September 22, 1862, when President Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclomation, an executive order to free slaves in Confederate states, he deliberately limited the applicability of the order as the Union Army was at war with the Confederacy. As such he had the authority to make the declaration as the Commander-in-Chief of the Union Army. His declaration did not apply to slave-holding states still in the Union. Any slave who could cross the lines would be granted permanent freedom. The declaration granted freedom to all slaves in the Confederacy but there was a matter of defeating the confederacy and enforcing the order.

Discovering Freedom

Two years and almost nine months after the Emancipation Proclamation, and two months after the Confederate defeat, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and read the federal proclamation that slavery was abolished and that all former slaves would now establish a relationship as an employer with their former owners. One could write an entire book about the ensuing shenanigans of the "employment" relationship but that's for another day.

As early as the next year, former slaves gathered to celebrate the day they were told they were free. The celebration continues to this day, one hundred fifty five years later.

Why Juneteenth Conference

Holding a conference to celebrate Juneteenth was the brainchild of Michael Brown. Taking a day of reflection on his anniversary at Microsoft, he was frustrated that the commemoration of this moment coincided with the turmoil in the country as Black people are joined by other witnesses and supporters around the world in support of the simple but powerful message: #BlackLivesMatter. On reflection he observed that this convergence of moments, this celebration of a personal milestone along with a greater movement to go forward was an opportunity. When former slaves celebrated the first Juneteenth anniversary, they knew there was more to do, but they celebrated anyway.

Having an affinity for metaphor, Michael wanted to create a celebration of this moment to gather and reflect and rejoice in the progress we've made while preparing ourselves for the work that remains.

Citing Juneteenth.com:

It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future.

In other words. Juneteenth is the perfect time for this conference. And this year is the perfect year to gather, celebrate, assess, improve ourselves, and plan for the future.

Further Reading

What is Juneteenth? by Henry Louis Gates Jr