There’s value in learning about topics that you may not have been exposed to before. As we are coming upon our next holiday, Juneteenth is a perfect topic!
HealthTree Foundation is taking the opportunity to learn and celebrate the significance of the holiday by participating in a Juneteenth Virtual Tour - an interactive and engaging experience that traces the history and culture of Juneteenth with on-location guides located in Hampton, VA and Austin, TX. Organized by HealthTree’s Black Myeloma Health initiative, stories and traditions of this holiday will be shared, and participants have received a Celebration Box that features themed goodies from Black-owned businesses.
Many of you may be gearing up for Juneteenth celebrations this weekend. I want to familiarize those that may not know why this is such an important date for the African American Community.
What is Juneteenth?
The holiday was initially known as Manumission Day, named after the act of an owner freeing their captives. Juneteenth is celebrated annually on June 19th. The name Juneteenth comes from a combination of the words June and nineteenth. The holiday is also known as Emancipation Day, Juneteenth National Independence Day, Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day. Juneteenth is considered the longest-running African American holiday and has been called America's second Independence Day.
After the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which gave the estimated 3 million people enslaved in the Confederate states their freedom, the Black Americans living in Texas had no idea that slavery had been abolished and the people enslaving them had no interest in telling them or ending the harsh practice.
It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 when Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended that the more than 250,000 enslaved Blacks were now free from slavery.
Why is it celebrated?
Juneteenth is important because it honors and draws attention to the truth about America’s history of racism and the legacy of slavery. At the same time, the holiday also celebrates the lives, achievements, and contributions of African American and Black culture. It gives an opportunity to look at the challenges Blacks have faced (and continue to face) as well as a moment to celebrate progress and positive thinking and strategies for the future.
How is it celebrated?
The original observances of freedom first involved church-centered community gatherings, including prayer meetings and the singing of spirituals. Celebrants wore new clothes as a way of representing their newfound freedom. As time went on annual traditions were established that grew into Juneteenth Celebrations. Since African Americans were often prohibited from using public facilities for their celebrations, they often held their annual celebrations at their churches or out in rural areas around rivers and creeks that could provide for additional activities such as fishing, horseback riding and barbecues.
Today, throughout the country Juneteenth is celebrated in various ways including prayer and religious services, speeches, historical reenactments, educational events, family gatherings and picnics, and festivals with music, food, and dancing. One of the most important and immediately impactful actions anyone can take in celebrating is to support black-owned businesses and organizations.
What is the significance of the color red and the Juneteenth flag?
The color red, in many West African cultures, is a symbol of strength, spirituality, and life and death. Red also symbolizes the bloodshed by millions of enslaved people. Red foods and drinks were a major way of commemorating that legacy of enslavement and the holiday.
Although the Juneteenth flag didn’t arrive until 132 years after Black Americans gained their freedom, it reflects, for us, many of the same qualities the U.S. flag reflects for all Americans. Created in 1997, the Juneteenth flag uses the exact same red, white, and blue colors as the United States's flag. This was intentional and meant to show that the formerly enslaved and their descendants are free Americans, too.
The white star in the center of the flag not only represents Texas, the Lone Star state where Juneteenth was first celebrated in 1865, but it also stands for the freedom of every African American in all 50 states. The bursting outline around the star is meant to reflect a nova, or new star, which represents a new beginning for all African Americans of Galveston and throughout the land. The arc or the curve that extends across the width of the flag represents a new horizon, meaning fresh opportunities and promising futures for African Americans.
Many people associate Juneteenth with red, black, and green colors. These are the colors of the pan-African flag. It was designed to represent people of the African Diaspora. The African diaspora refers to the many communities of people of African descent dispersed throughout the world as a result of historic movements. These colors are said to symbolize black freedom.
Is Juneteenth a federal holiday?
In 1980, Juneteenth was made a state holiday in Texas. In the years that followed, other states began to officially recognize the holiday. As more and more people became aware of the celebration, efforts intensified to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. After years in the making, Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021.
Juneteenth is important, because it reminds African Americans of what we came through and what we can achieve. It’s relevant to our myeloma journey as we continue to show strength and perseverance through our challenges. Allyship helps us push through as we celebrate life and our daily victories. Let's all pause to commemorate this very special day.
about the author
Valarie Traynham has been a myeloma survivor since 2015. Wanting to be a source of support, provide patient education and encouragement to help others along their myeloma journey, she is a volunteer myeloma coach, myeloma support group leader and patient advocate. She enjoys being outdoors, reading, and trying new recipes.