Juneteenth. Texas Emancipation Day. Freedom Day. June 19. Four names for one holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the last Confederate state, Texas, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Now there is a petition circulating to make Juneteenth a nationally recognized holiday.
Africana Studies Archivist and Librarian Rebecca Hankins said Juneteenth has cultural significance, not only for the Black community, but for all Americans who value freedom, and should be honored as such.
“At the time of Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation there were no Union soldiers in Texas to enforce the order,” Hankins said. “June 19  is the day the enslaved Africans [in Texas] were finally informed of their free status. We need to be reminded of what Juneteenth means in its rawest form was the fact that Texas was ok with having Black people enslaved for two and a half years after all others were freed.”
Juneteenth has been celebrated for decades within Texas, and has slowly spread to include state-recognized days of observance in 46 of the 50 states.
“Early stories are told of freed people wearing their best clothes and walking everywhere so they could be seen as free,” Hankins said. “For years African Americans have celebrated Juneteenth by returning to Galveston, Texas, on an annual pilgrimage to the place where they first learned of their freedom. Juneteenth is now celebrated, largely by African Americans as a day of shared prayer, food, commemoration, and celebration.”
And while people cannot celebrate Juneteenth in the typical way due to COVID-19 restrictions, there are a few celebrations going on to honor an important historical figure and educate the community on this holiday.
By June 19, the Bush School Diversity & Inclusion Committee hopes to raise $1,900 for the Matthew Gaines Initiative — a fund dedicated to building a statue of Senator Matthew Gaines who helped create the Morrill Land Grant Act that founded Texas A&M. At the time of publishing, they have raised $1012.
Committee member and political science senior Kenya Robinson said this statue is long overdue and Juneteenth is the perfect time to honor Gaines’ legacy at A&M.
“I think it is important to celebrate Juneteeth in this way because Mr. Gaines was one of the first Black senators in Texas who supported the efforts of creating a university that he couldn't even attend because of the color of his skin,” Robinson said. “I think it can be another learning opportunity for others who may not understand what this holiday is and why it is important to celebrate.”
The Brazos Valley African American Museum is also hosting a Juneteenth Curbside Celebration from 10 a.m. to noon at the museum where they will hand out informational pamphlets and snacks to visitors that drive through. The museum itself will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with free admission.
With the petition for a national holiday slowly gathering signatures and the increasing national unrest over racial injustice, Robinson said Juneteenth is of more importance than ever.
“Growing up, I was so used to the holiday of Juneteeth being overlooked by majority culture,” Robinson said. “Juneteenth needs to be honored because we need to remember and honor the black Americans who shed blood for a country that stole, killed and spewed hate against their children for generations.”
This Juneteenth, Hankins said white people should take this time to educate themselves, become allies for people of color and stand up against racism in their families and communities.
“It is a journey not a destination, sometimes you make a wrong turn, sometimes you get tired, sometimes you find that sustenance to help you keep going,” Hankins said. “In the long run you are saving some Black, Indigenous, Person of Color (BIPOC) from having to constantly be the one fighting this battle alone.”
In an email to Texas A&M University faculty and staff, A&M announced that University personnel will not be required to work on Friday, June 19, in honor of Texas Emancipation Day. Classes will still be held and essential employees will be required to work, but will be given time off for use later in the year.