Emancipation Day: Names, History, Origin, Date, Significance

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Emancipation Day
Emancipation Day

About Emancipation Day

Emancipation Day is celebrated on 19 June to mark the anniversary of the historic declaration that freed African Americans in the United States from the hold of slavery. It commemorates the efforts of all those who fought to abolish the system of slavery that was entrenched in American society. Read this article to know more about Important Dates, History, Significance, How Emancipation Day is celebrated, Other names by which it is known.

What is Emancipation Day?

Emancipation Day which is also popularly called ‘Juneteenth’ (a combination of “June” and “nineteenth”) is a monumental day in African American history. It is a celebration of the African American freedom movement and encourages self-development and respect for all other cultures.

The day is celebrated to mark the signing anniversary of the Compensated Emancipation Act signed by President Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862. This move freed more than 3000 slaves in the Columbia district. However, slavery did not end officially in the rest of the US until after the American Civil War, which lasted from the year 1861-1865. The day has taken a global perspective but it finds its roots in the events that occurred in 1865 in the state of Texas. It is a day of national pride.

History of Emancipation Day?

The origin of the day that marked the ending of slavery in the United States dates back to 1865. Formal slavery was legal until the year 1865 in most of the area that is now the UN. On June 19, the Union soldiers,  who were led by Major General Gordon Granger,  reached  Galveston, Texas, and delivered the news that the enslaved were to be set free and that the American Civil war had ended.

However, this declaration had reached Texas almost two and a half years after President  Abraham Lincoln had authorized the Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation had been made official on January 1, 1863. The document hardly impacted the Texans as the number of Union troops who could enforce the Executive Order was limited. This changed with the surrender of General Lee in April 1865. The arrival of General Granger’s regiment reinforced the troops who were finally strengthened to overcome the resistance to the order.

Attempts to explain the two-and-a-half-year delay have led to many stories. One such is the story of a messenger who was told to have been murdered on his journey to Texas. Yet another story relates that the news was withheld on purpose by the enslavers to ensure that the labor force on the plantations was not affected. Still, another is the probability that the federal troops waited for the slave owners to profit from one last harvest of cotton before enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation.

The truth of these stories is not known. It was certain that, for some, the authority of President Lincoln over the disagreeing states was in doubt. All this led to slavery being practiced in Texas even after it was outlawed by the authorities, making it on to the last places where the proclamation was adopted. Many former slaves immediately left the plantation and embraced their new freedom. Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma were some of the states that they chose to settle in.

What is the Significance of observing Emancipation Day?

Establishing a new life in another state brought the challenge of creating a status for black people that had not existed before. The day became an important reminder and motivation for the people who had to undergo the growing pressures that came from living in strange territory. It became a time for forgiving each other for reassurance, prayer, and gathering with family. The day began to be called ‘Juneteenth’as more people participated. Other names for the day are Freedom Day and  Jubilee Day.

How is Emancipation Day celebrated?

The celebrations include activities for entertainment such as rodeos, barbecuing, fishing, and baseball. Emancipation day emphasizes greatly on education and self-improvement. Therefore guest speakers are usually invited and elders are called upon to share stories of the past. Prayer services were another major part of the day.

Certain foods such as strawberry soda-pop became synonyms with the day. The traditional barbecue pit became a place around which families bonded and is the center of attraction during the celebration. Dishes made with meats such as lamb, pork, and beef were brought to be shared on a special occasion. The dress is also an important element of the day as at the time of slavery, there existed laws that controlled the dressing of the enslaved.

Today, the observance is concentrated in local celebrations. The people included public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and other traditional songs, and reading out African-American writers such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Celebrations consist of street fairs, parades, family reunions, park parties, and cookouts. Historical reenactments and  Miss Juneteenth contests are also popular. The Mascogos, who are descendants of Black Seminoles of Coahuila, Mexico also observe the occasion of Juneteenth.

What are Fun Facts about Juneteenth or Emancipation Day?

  • Emancipation Day is the oldest known holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in the US.
  • Juneteenth is also the title of a book by Ralph Ellison. Carolyn Meyer and Ann Rinaldi have also written books that are centered around the day.
  • Strawberry soda pop is a popular drink associated with the day.
  • There is a Juneteenth Flag of Freedom which is half red and half blue with a star in the middle. A Juneteenth Flag raising ceremony is held in the town of Galveston every year.

Emancipation Day Quotes

  • Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations. That’s why we need this holiday. –  Al Edwards, Texas Democratic Representative
  •  The struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation. –  Coretta Scott King, human rights activist and leader 
  • I prayed for freedom for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs. –  Frederick Douglass, a leader in the abolitionist movement 
  • I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me. – Harriet Tubman, a  leading abolitionist and humanitarian
  • My people have a country of their own to go to if they choose… Africa… but, this America belongs to them just as much as it does to any of the white race… in some ways even more so because they gave the sweat of their brow and their blood in slavery so that many parts of America could become prosperous and recognized in the world. – Josephine Baker, legendary entertainer and activist 
  •  Now I’ve been free, I know what dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave. – Harriet Tubman, writer, and civil rights activist 
  • If the cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. Because the goal of America is freedom, abused and scorned tho’ we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. –  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader 
  • Anytime anyone is enslaved, or in any way deprived of his liberty, if that person is a human being, as far as I am concerned he is justified to resort to whatever methods necessary to bring about his liberty again. – Malcolm X, a renowned human rights activist

Emancipation Day – FAQ

1. Which was the first state that freed slaves?

Pennsylvania was the first state to abolished slavery in 1780. Around half the other states abolished slavery in the course of the Revolutionary War or in the early period of the new country.

2. Who signed the Compensated Emancipation Act in 1862?

The day is celebrated to mark the signing anniversary of the Compensated Emancipation Act signed by President Abraham Lincoln on April 16, 1862. This move freed more than 3000 slaves in the Columbia district. However, slavery did not end officially in the rest of the US until after the American Civil War, which lasted from the year 1861-1865.

3. What kinds of traditional food is eaten on Juneteenth?

Watermelon and red soda water are some of the oldest traditional foods that are enjoyed on  Juneteenth according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. Soul food like Fried chicken and barbecue, greens, and black-eyed peas are also served.

4. Do all US states celebrate Emancipation Day?

Forty-seven U.S. states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as a day of observance in one way or the other. The three states that have not recognized Juneteenth are Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

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