Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. While the emancipation of enslaved people was first declared in the country by President Lincoln in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, it was largely unenforced until union troops arrived after slowly advancing through the south. Because of this, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — nearly two and a half years following the emancipation proclamation — that a Union general named Gordon Granger officially told people of Galveston, Texas that enslaved people were free by executive proclamation. Because of this, Juneteenth also represents for many delayed liberation and justice due to continued systematic oppression. As such, Juneteenth officially honors the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday.
The holiday is also often referred to as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, or Black Independence Day, as the July 4th Independence Day commemorating the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence came at a time when enslaved Black Americans were anything but free.
In those earliest Juneteenth celebrations in Texas, celebrants dressed in their finest, trumpeting the universal concerns of citizenship and liberty, with exalted speakers from the Reconstruction era and symbols like the Goddess of Liberty. From their earliest incarnations, Juneteenth celebrations provided an occasion for gathering lost family members, measuring progress against freedom, and instilling younger generations with the values of self-improvement and racial uplift. This was accomplished through readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, religious sermons and spirituals, preparation and sharing of food delicacies of the African diaspora, as well as games and sporting events.
Juneteenth celebrations gradually began to move across state lines “one person, one family, one carload or train ticket at a time” according to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in The Root. Author Isabel Wilkerson in her book Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, writes that “the people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went.” As it spread, the observance was also changing. This was especially true in the 1920s as the Consumer Age infiltrated black society with advertisements for fancier Juneteenth attire and ever more elaborate celebratory displays. Modern Juneteeth celebrations often include parades, community events, and barbecues.
Juneteenth didn’t become an officially recognized holiday in Texas until 1979 and, since then, 47 other states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday or holiday observance. Vermont has officially recognized Juneteenth since 2008, though 2021 marks a new level of commitment to honor the holiday thanks to the efforts of Tyeastia Green, Burlington’s Director of Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. For the first time in its history, the city of Burlington will officially recognize Juneteenth with a slate of celebratory events, including a gospel brunch and a community dance party at City Hall Park.
Another local opportunity to honor the occasion this year is A Sailing Celebration for Black Vermonters, created by All Heart Inspirations in collaboration with Burlington’s Whistling Man Schooner Co. According to the event listing on the All Heart Inspirations web page, the event will include storytelling performances from a variety of local Black artists, while sailing on Lake Champlain – providing a heartfelt, meaningful experience and affinity for Vermonters who self-identify as Black, African-American, of African diaspora or African descent. Registration for this landmark event opened on May 1st and was booked within two hours, underscoring the community’s hunger to honor this special holiday.
Clemmons Family Farm is also planning a low-key, family-friendly Juneteenth on the Farm Celebration Saturday, June 19 from 10:30 am – 2 pm, in collaboration with the ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. Visitors will be treated to an aerial performance by Vermont artist Pamela Donohoo, who is one of 200 collaborating artists that make up the Clemmons Family Farm artist network. There will also be black eyed pea and collard green planting, tastings, craft-making, and poetry! Registration is limited to the first 50 registrants, so be sure to visit https://tinyurl.com/CFFJuneteenth2021 to register!
If you’d like to celebrate Juneteeth this year but can’t attend the local festivities, consider a celebratory meal using the collection of recipes compiled by National Co-op Grocers (NCG) honoring the rich culinary traditions associated with Juneteenth celebrations. Another fantastic way to honor the spirit of Juneteeth is to consider donating to local and national organizations dedicated to the ongoing work of dismantling deeply-rooted systems of oppression that continue to impede the rights and freedoms of people of color. Locally, the Rutland Area NAACP, the Every Town Project, Clemmons Family Farm, and the SUSU CommUNITY Farm are great places to start.