Celebrating Juneteenth

Austin History Ctr - Public Library - Juneteenth Celebration
Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, 6.19.1900 by Mrs. Charles Stevenson licensed under public domain.

Yesterday, June 19, 2017 people around the nation celebrated the 152nd anniversary of Juneteenth. One hundred and fifty-two years ago the last known enslaved people in the state of Texas were notified that they were free people. The Emancipation Proclamation was announced in Galveston, Texas in 1865 and enacted with arrival of Union troops and then the Freedmen’s Bureau. [1] However, it took a little while longer for many black Texans to rightfully celebrate their citizenship as free people. Slave masters who knew the Emancipation Proclamation had been made waited to tell their enslaved people until after harvest time, waited until they deemed it a good time to release their slaves, or waited until they were confronted by Union troops on their plantations.

Since 1865 people across the nation have continued to celebrate this holiday in various forms. The above image was taken in 1900 at an Austin, Texas Juneteenth celebration. I found this image on pinterest months ago and was enthralled by the dress of the group. They are ‘dressed to the nines’ in celebration of their ancestors, if not their own, emancipation from enslavement! The expressions and stance of the group in addition to their clothing – hats, handkerchief, dresses, suits, visible pocket-watch chain, and cane speak to the pride of having power over one’s bodily adornment.

Years earlier during slavery, an enslaved person had very little agency over how they dressed. They were often given the least expensive, itchy fabrics bought in the market or made on the plantation from cotton, flax, and wool. In addition, at this time in history {after Reconstruction and the beginning of the Jim Crow “separate but equal” era in America} white supremacist leaders in society were still using the law to police their bodies. They were free men and women, citizens, of African descent in America, but they had to fight to have control of their own bodies. They had to fight to have their bodies respected as worthy of equal justice and protection under the law.

We are still fighting today.

Many times, in history Juneteenth has been observed in sorrow and celebration. Just as in 1900, this Juneteenth was also a bittersweet event considering the verdict handed down in the murder of Philando Castile by a police officer on Friday, June 16th and then the shooting death of Charleena Lyles in front of her children in Seattle on Sunday, June 18th. We must keep fighting {and praying!} until the day it’s a day of pure celebration.

[1] “What Is Juneteenth? African American History Blog | The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” accessed June 20, 2017, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-is-juneteenth/.

Sources and for more information:

“Juneteenth World Wide Celebration.” Accessed June 20, 2017. http://juneteenth.com/.

“What Is Juneteenth? | HelloBeautiful.” Accessed June 20, 2017. https://hellobeautiful.com/2881325/what-is-juneteenth-racism/.

“What Is Juneteenth? African American History Blog | The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.” Accessed June 20, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-is-juneteenth/.

“Why Juneteenth Must Be Celebrated – The Atlantic.” Accessed June 20, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/06/juneteenth-celebration-police-brutality-justice/530898/.

#juneteenth #blackmaterialculture

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