Answering questions on the history behind Juneteenth

Events planned in Metro Detroit this week to celebrate Juneteenth

Celebrating Juneteenth in Metro Detroit

DETROIT – Juneteenth is being recognized all over the nation, but there are still plenty of questions about how to observe the events surrounding June 19, 1865.

Like so many people, Norma Powell, is excited to have Thursday off from work to commemorate Juneteenth.

Read more: Juneteenth 2021: Here’s what Detroit has planned for the week

However, she’s not exactly sure what this all means.

“I do not fully understand what it is all about,” said Powell who has questions about Juneteenth.

Up until last year, relatively few people, other than historians even knew what Juneteenth represented.

June 19, 1865 in the far West of Galveston, Texas, the federal mandate to free all slaves was ignored by the deep red Confederate South.  

In the middle 1800s there was obviously no television news or social media and so information could not be saturated, but more sprinkled, and so white slave owners deliberately kept slaves for two and a half more seasons of cotton, crops and bondage until the jig was up, what’s known as Juneteenth.  

Read more: Why Juneteenth is just part of the conversation surrounding emancipation

DeWitt Dykes is a professor of history, specializing in African American and family history at Oakland University.

“The states fighting against the United States government were not going to take the news of the Emancipation Proclamation and either stop fighting or free their slaves,” said Dykes.

Turns out that Michigan declared the third Saturday of every June a state holiday in 2005 under then Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

You probably didn’t notice, but now the nation is recognizing the actual date.

“I don’t know what to think about it, what to make of it, what to do on Juneteenth. How do we celebrate our ancestors. Do we celebrate our ancestors? There is a whole lot of questions there even for me as a Black person,” said Powell.

For historians, just the fact that we’re talking about the event makes it relevant.

“First, it’s relevant for us because it means the end of the war, and secondly because it’s the beginning of a new status for persons of African descent. It starts the process of making it possible to teach Africans to read and write, to teach Africans job skills and to help elevate them as much as possible. There would be and still is some opposition to elevation, but it’s a good start,” said Dykes.

There are several Juneteenth events planned in Metro Detroit this week. You can view the list below.

List: Juneteenth events in Metro Detroit

About the Authors:

Paula Tutman is an Emmy award-winning journalist who came to Local 4 in 1992. She's married and the stepmother of three beautiful and brilliant daughters. Her personal philosophy in life, love and community is, "Do as much as you can possibly do, not as little as you can possibly get away with".