In 2020, nationwide protests against racism and police brutality gave new urgency to Juneteenth, a holiday long-cherished by Black Americans—an observance of resilience in a centuries-old journey.
MISSION & HISTORY.
The Juneteenth Legacy Project aims to recontextualize Juneteenth as a pivotal moment in the arc of U.S. history while properly telling the story of its genesis, and historical and contemporary relevance.
Juneteenth commemorates Union Army General Gordon Granger’s proclamation issued on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, which ordered the freedom of more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state of Texas.
Juneteenth is now observed annually on June 19, celebrating the emancipation of those enslaved in the United States, with varying degrees of official recognition. The United States does not recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday.
One of the initiative’s desired outcomes is that June 19 is designated a national holiday by the U.S. Congress. Texas (1980), New Hampshire
(2019), New York (2020), and New Jersey (2020) have adopted Juneteenth as a state holiday.
“The Juneteenth Legacy Project will serve as a platform for illuminating and amplifying a complete story of Juneteenth—helping make the invisible visible and giving voice to the voiceless—remembering and celebrating the contributions of Black freedmen and formerly enslaved people who fought for their freedom and the freedom of others,” Sam Collins, a historian and co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, said.
“Juneteenth is not about enslavement and suffering,” Collins said. “Juneteenth is about a spirit of renewal that celebrates freedom and opportunity. Absolute equality is not about equal results but about creating a society that supports all to become their very best selves to benefit the collective community.”
The Juneteenth story has become somewhat romanticized, a heroic tale starring Granger, the white Union general, as the lead protagonist. But organizations such as the Juneteenth National Observance Foundation have uncovered a little-known element of that narrative: the presence of several Union regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) that, by coincidence, marched into Galveston at the same time as Granger. These actions provided a powerful image to the island’s enslaved people, who were oblivious to the fact that they had been granted freedom by Lincoln two years prior.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had officially outlawed slavery in Texas and other states at war with the Union on January 1, 1863. However, Lincoln’s proclamation had little impact on Texans at that time due to the small number of Union troops available to enforce the law. Enforcement of the declaration generally relied on the advance of Union troops due to continued rebel resistance.
It’s also important to note that many historians dispute that Granger read the orders to the public during a ceremony. Many argue that, although Granger issued the orders, there was no public ceremony in Galveston. As commanding officer, his position was to simply come ashore and order his soldiers to disperse throughout the town and countryside, advising slaveholders that their slaves had to be freed immediately.
Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (Amendment XIII) to the U.S. Constitution abolished chattel (personal property) slavery nationwide on December 6, 1865. It came after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
The African American Civil War Memorial commemorates the military service of hundreds of thousands of Civil War era Black soldiers and sailors. Etched into stainless steel panels of the memorial are names identifying 209,145 United States Colored Troops who responded to the Union's call to arms. In 1865, President Lincoln said, "Without the military help of the black freedmen, the war against the South could not have been won".
Juneteenth is now observed annually on June 19, celebrating the emancipation of those enslaved in the United States, with varying degrees of official recognition. The U.S. Congress has yet to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday.
Although Black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth since the late 1800s until its emergence on the national stage in 2020, modern Juneteenth observances have focused primarily on local celebrations.
One of the project’s desired outcomes is that June 19 shall be designated a national holiday by the United States Congress. Texas (1980), New Hampshire (2019), New York (2020), and New Jersey (2020) have adopted Juneteenth as a state holiday. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a ceremonial holiday. North Dakota, South Dakota, and Hawaii do not recognize Juneteenth.
In 2020, Twitter and Square, a mobile payment company, designated Juneteenth as a company holiday. Jack Dorsey, CEO and founder of Twitter and Square, said the day was for “celebration, education, and connection.” Vox Media, Nike, the N.F.L., Best Buy, and Target have also made similar announcements, joining others in making the celebration a paid day off.
Reginald C. Adams
Reginald C. Adams is a world-renowned public artist, social entrepreneur, and community developer. His award-winning mosaic murals, sculptures, and art installations are located in historic and underserved communities across the U.S.
The Juneteenth Legacy Project is seeking grantmaking and in-kind partnerships for the art installation, dedication event, and educational programs. For additional information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.