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What is Juneteenth and Why Do We Celebrate it?


Juneteenth Oregon 2020

155th Juneteenth Livestream Event

Date: Saturday, June 20, 2020

Time: Starts at 1:00 p.m.

Watch the Event Live on Facebook and Instagram!

Click for more event and viewing information.

What is Juneteenth?

You’ve probably been seeing a lot of mentions in the news and in your social media this week about events taking place celebrating Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is an important holiday, one that commemorates a pivotal moment in American history, though the truth is that many people in our country have still not heard of it. In light of recent events, we believe this will change to become a more prominent holiday in coming years, giving it the much needed respect such a critical part of our country’s history deserves.

The History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Cel-Liberation Day, is celebrated annually on June 19. It is the oldest national celebration of the end of American slavery, dating back to June 19, 1865. On that day, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas bringing with them the long awaited and utterly life-changing news that the American Civil War was over, Union forces had prevailed, and those who had been enslaved for generations were now free.

This welcome news was seriously delayed however, arriving a full two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” were from that day free. The Proclamation also announced that black men would be accepted into the Union Army. By the time the war ended, over 200,000 black men had fought for freedom.

There have been plenty of stories over the years as to why this lengthy delay took place, from salacious tales of murdered messengers to theories that the news was purposely kept secret by slaveholders. One particularly unpleasant theory was that federal troops actually waited for slave owners to finish one last cotton harvest before sharing the news.

It’s unclear which, if any, of these stories is true but there is no doubt that the reaction to this news was both swift and powerful. Some of those enslaved chose to stay, though no longer as slaves but as employees. Many others immediately left to create new lives elsewhere, whether in the north or in neighboring states where they might be able to locate missing loved ones.

Though originally celebrated in Galveston and nearby communities, Juneteenth became over time a day of remembrance and commemoration across the country. Areas in the south celebrated Juneteenth with picnics, rodeos, and church ceremonies. Today, Juneteenth is a widespread celebration of freedom that shines a light on the achievements of black Americans. Juneteenth celebrations range from a single day up to a month of festivities, from small picnics and family gatherings to citywide or even national events with a full lineup of guest speakers. National institutions including the Smithsonian, the Henry Ford Museum and others have also started sponsoring Juneteenth-centered activities. This year, following the tragic death of George Floyd in Minnesota and the worldwide protests that followed, Juneteenth also serves as a national day of reckoning as we grapple with how far we have yet to go to dismantle our country’s history of systemic racism.

While most states recognize Juneteenth in some capacity, it is not yet a national holiday. It is perhaps a sign of changing times, however, to see that many businesses have begun to recognize it as a paid holiday for their employees, including Nike and the NFL. On June 16, 2020 Portland made Juneteenth a paid holiday for city employees as well.

It is encouraging to see not only businesses but more individuals around the world take interest and seek out more information about the holiday and recognize it as an opportunity for nationwide reflection and, we hope, an indicator of real change.

Oregon Juneteenth

This year, IBEW Local 48 is proud to sponsor the 155th Juneteenth Livestream event Saturday, June 20th starting at 1 pm. Find more information on Facebook or visit the Juneteenth Oregon website.

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