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 and suppressed 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 the 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 of 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 Juneteenth 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 marked 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 officially recognized Juneteenth with a slate of celebratory events, including a gospel brunch and a community dance party at City Hall Park.
Building on that momentum, the City of Burlington’s Racial Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (REIB) Office has a slate of events planned for this year’s Juneteenth celebration, held on Saturday, June 17th, and centered around this year’s theme: Embrace & Belonging. The celebration will showcase various arts and cultural expressions over the course of 12 hours of nonstop entertainment featuring over 50 performers across multiple iconic locations in Burlington’s vibrant downtown. The event is free and open to the public. According to the REIB website, “Through this intentional commemorative act, we mark and celebrate resilience and creativity and elevate Black people who have been the backbone of this nation but often cast in its shadows to center stage in Burlington. This year’s Juneteenth celebration theme, Embrace & Belonging, speaks to the collective work we must do as a community to continue the efforts to actualize the promises of freedom and the right and privileges afforded to full citizenship in the United States, Burlington, and Vermont. Embrace & Belonging encourages Burlingtonians to intentionally practice and support Black people living authentically in all places and spaces.”
Another local opportunity to honor the occasion 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. They’re offering eight different trips from Tuesday, June 20th – Thursday, June 22nd. Capacity is limited and available first come, first-served. This gesture is FREE and open to our local Black community members due to the amazing sponsorships and donations. To donate to this wonderful program and help them reach their $10K fundraising goal, click here.
Clemmons Family Farm is also planning a low-key, family-friendly Juneteenth on the Farm Celebration Sunday, June 18th, and Monday, June 19th on their historic homestead in Charlotte, Vermont.
The Freestyling Our Futures Juneteenth Celebration is a collaboration with 30 Clemmons Family Farm collaborating artists in a family-friendly celebration honoring African American culture, freedoms, and our human connectedness. This is a FREE program that is made possible in part through public donations. Attendees will experience spoken word co-creation, storytelling, musical and aerial performances, art-making, and more! Registration for this year’s event is already closed, though a great way to support this year’s event and other vital programming offered by Clemmons Family Farm is to offer a donation.
If you’d like to celebrate Juneteeth this year but can’t attend the local festivities, consider a celebratory meal to honor the rich culinary traditions associated with Juneteenth celebrations. This Peach and Molasses Chicken recipe, adapted from the Juneteenth cookbook Watermelon and Red Birds by Nicole Taylor seems like a great place to start. Another fantastic way to honor the spirit of Juneteenth 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, Clemmons Family Farm, The Milkweed Home Project, the Vermont Professionals of Color Network, SUSU CommUNITY Farm, and Unlikely Riders are great places to start.