Juneteenth: The story behind the freedom celebration for Black Americans

A traditional holiday for many has garnered national attention amid unrest over racism in the U.S.

A photo of the statue of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Lincoln is known for abolishing slavery in 1863 by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation amid the Civil War. (WDIV)

DETROIT – Summertime in much of the United States represents joy and liberty for Americans from tyranny, slavery and -- in Michigan -- cold winter months.

During this season of freedom Americans celebrate Independence Day on July 4, a holiday honoring the country’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Many Black Americans also celebrate a day of freedom called Juneteenth on June 19, which commemorates the day the last African American slaves were notified of their freedom in 1865. President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1863 when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but the news did not reach slaves in Texas until two years later at the end of the Civil War.

Slaves in Union-held states amid the war were not covered under Lincoln’s proclamation and were not officially freed until the establishment of the Thirteenth Amendment, which formally abolished slavery nationwide on Dec. 6, 1865.

Much like the Fourth of July, Juneteenth -- also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day -- is celebrated around the country with parades, cookouts and community gatherings. Unlike the Fourth of July, however, Juneteenth is not recognized as a federal holiday -- though it is recognized as a state holiday in 46 states.

In Michigan Juneteenth is celebrated statewide with significant gatherings in Detroit, Saginaw, Lansing and more. Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm named Juneteenth as a state holiday in 2005, declaring the third Sunday of June as Juneteenth National Freedom Day. Current Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a proclamation last year and this year naming June 19 as Juneteenth Celebration Day.

“Juneteenth is a crucial day in our nation’s history to remember how far we have come and recognize how far we still have to go,” said Governor Whitmer. “During a time when communities of color are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and when the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have shone a light on the systemic racism Black Americans face every day, we must work together to build a more equitable and just Michigan. I’m proud to declare June 19, 2020 as Juneteenth Celebration Day, and will continue to work tirelessly to create a state that is equal for all.”

This year, amid national unrest over the recent killings of Black Americans, Detroit is holding a weeklong celebration to commemorate Juneteenth. The city of Detroit began holding virtual discussions on Monday related to Black Americans’ culture and history on their Facebook Live.

The city is also calling for a local artist to help paint a “message of resilience and power” along Woodward Avenue amid the holiday celebration -- a trend seen in Washington D.C., Brooklyn, New York and more -- where “Black Lives Matter” has been painted in large letters along public roads.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) will also host a virtual “Black Family Reunion” event to celebrate Juneteenth.

Though a traditional holiday to many Americans, some are unaware of this day of freedom, which has received a recent spotlight as the nation decries racism following the killings of multiple Black Americans. The death of Black Minneapolis man George Floyd on May 25 routed significant attention toward the Black Lives Matter movement and sparked national -- even global -- protests demanding change and condemning racial inequity.

MORE: Third weekend of protests in Metro Detroit ends peacefully

Many companies and organizations have spoken out against racism and police brutality amid the national unrest. Companies like Nike, Quicken Loans and DTE Energy recently announced that they and their employees will observe Juneteenth in an effort to honor and acknowledge Black Americans’ experiences and history.

Even the NFL announced a move to observe Juneteenth as a league holiday -- which is significant after the organization faced backlash over its handling of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest against police brutality, when he knelt during the national anthem played before football games. The NFL ultimately banned players from kneeling during the national anthem in 2018 after some decried Kaepernick’s actions, but later revoked the rule and have since condemned racism and encouraged peaceful protests.

MORE: Colin Kaepernick has more support now, still long way to go

U.S. President Donald Trump recently received backlash for scheduling a rally on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma -- the 1921 site of one of the most violent white-on-black attacks in American history. After Trump campaign officials became aware of the site and the date’s significance, the rally was moved to a different date.

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.