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 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, spanning from June 17th – 19th, centered around the this year’s theme: A Love Story. According to the REIB website, this year’s theme rose from the understanding that “when you think about Black Americans, you can’t forget about the heart that it took to rebuild, restore, and revive a culture. We will have a weekend long Celebration powered by LOVE. Love from within, around and outside the community.”
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. They’re offering seven different trips from Monday, June 13th – Wednesday, June 15th. Capacity is limited and available first-come, first-served. Registration for this second annual event is already booked up, underscoring the community’s hunger to honor this special holiday, and those still hopeful to attend may be added to a waitlist using this link. There’s also an option to donate to this wonderful event to help them reack their $14K fundraising goal by clicking here.
Clemmons Family Farm is also planning a low-key, family-friendly Juneteenth on the Farm Celebration Saturday, June 18th from 12-4 and Sunday, June 19th from 10-12 on thier historic homestead in Charlotte, Vermont.
According to their webpage, “Clemmons Family Farm’s Juneteenth 2022 theme is Building Legacies that Matter. We ask all visitors to the farm, young and old, “What legacy do you want to build and leave for the next generations?”. In celebration of African American culture, freedoms, and our human connectedness, we engage the community to consider this question on Juneteenth through our curated arts and culture program on the farm. Attendees will experience Clemmons family storytelling, musical and aerial performances, and boxed soul food samples for tasting prepared by our collaborating African diaspora culinary artists, with recipes and history notes included in the box. They will engage with other Clemmons Family Farm collaborating artists to co-create visual art using their own silhouettes combined with poetry and a selection of proverbs and old sayings that express the legacies they want to build.”
Admission is FREE but is limited to 60 people each day. Advance registrations are required to attend and those interested my register using this link.
Clemmons Family Farm’s Building Legacies That Matter Juneteenth 2022 program is made possible through kind donations from community members like you and from Vermont businesses who are sponsoring the celebrations. If you, your business, or organization wishes to sponsor this year’s event, click here.
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 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, the Vermont Professionals of Color Network, SUSU CommUNITY Farm, and Unlikely Riders are great places to start.