By Cherella Nicholson, Program Officer

Juneteenth is a unifying holiday

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two-and-a-half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Later attempts to explain this two-and-a-half-year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or none of these versions could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question. Whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

 When is it celebrated?

Officially, Juneteenth is June 19 (“Juneteenth” being a portmanteau of “June” and “Nineteenth”). Celebrations are usually shifted to fall on the third Saturday of June.

 So, Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the U.S.?

Not quite. While the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Confederate states, it said nothing about states that had chosen to remain in the Union. Both Maryland and Missouri — two border states that chose to stay in the Union while also allowing slavery — had done away with the practice before the war’s end, but Kentucky and Delaware allowed slavery until the 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865.

 How is it celebrated?

A communal holiday, celebrations usually involve cooking out and barbecuing, music, educational history lessons and a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Fresno Juneteenth 2021 Celebration will be held Saturday, June 26, at 3 p.m. at Frank H. Ball Park – 760 Mayor Ave., Fresno, CA 93706. Fun, food, family event.

 Click here to view the event flyer and to follow Fresno Juneteenth on Facebook.