Julia Moskin’s New York Times article “Late to Freedom’s Party, Texans Spread Word of Black Holiday,” describes the annually celebrated holiday known as “Juneteenth” (usually celebrated, according to Moskin’s article, on the third Saturday in June). The celebration commemorates June 19th, 1865, about two years after the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, when an Army ship arrived in Texas to inform the state that its slaves were now freed.
The celebration was originally held in Texas, and in 1980 Texas made Juneteenth an official holiday. Including New York, 14 states have made Juneteenth an official state holiday (as of June 18, 2004, the date Moskin’s article was published).
Moskin emphasizes the growing inclusive nature of Juneteenth celebrations: “Now the white ladies come by on the first of June and start asking: ‘When’s Juneteenth?'” a Juneteenth participator is quoted as saying in the article. Communities with relatively small populations such as Portland, Oregon or Chandler, Arizona, even participate in Juneteenth celebrations.
Why the popularity of Juneteenth? It’s an overwhelmingly fun, joyful, and positive celebration. As opposed to memorializing slavery itself, Juneteenth stresses its demise and the liberation that came with it. A comparison is made between Martin Luther King’s Birthday and Juneteenth: “When I think of Martin, I can’t help but see the dogs and the sticks and the little girls in the church,” Paul Herring says in the article, “But when I think of Juneteenth, I see an old codger kicking up his heels and running down the road to tell everyone the happy news.”
While Juneteenth seems to have been embraced by many, some criticism exists. One argument is that it promotes “black ignorance”; another is that holidays such as Emancipation Day and Martin Luther King’s Birthday are sufficient “black holidays.”
Perhaps the argument that adding Juneteenth as an official holiday is overkill would make some sense if it were a holiday that resulted in government offices closing, but most states seem to enact the holiday on a ceremonial level, eliminating that angle of the argument. There is therefore no excuse not to champion the celebration of this inspiring holiday.
The spirit of Juneteenth seems to veritably drip with enthusiasm, hope, and joy. It is not a somber day of remembrance, like Emancipation Day or Martin Luther King’s Birthday tend to be, but rather a slightly rowdy remembrance of all the human strength that helped to end one of humanity’s darkest mistakes – slavery. Juneteenth celebrates the best in humanity, and as such should be embraced by people of all races.