What Is Juneteenth?

On June 19, 1865, freedom reached the westernmost Confederate state of Texas. On this day, some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay and announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Texas were free.

What Is Juneteenth?

As Juneteenth approaches, residents of South Jersey are preparing to join the nationwide celebration of this pivotal moment in American history. Juneteenth, observed on June 19, commemorates the day in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston, TX, to announce that all enslaved people were free, marking the true end of slavery in the United States.

The origins of Juneteenth date back to "Freedom’s Eve," the night of December 31, 1862. Enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes, in anticipation of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which would take effect at midnight, January 1, 1863. This historic proclamation, which did not free slaves in Union-controlled northern states, declared all enslaved individuals in Confederate states legally free (essentially freeing the slaves where it could not, and not freeing them where it could). Union soldiers, including many African Americans, spread the news throughout the South, carrying copies of the proclamation.

This photo of Abraham Lincoln hangs in the home of Frederick Douglas, in the Anacostia section of Southeast Washington D.C. Photo Credit: Mark Tyler

However, the proclamation could not be enforced in Confederate-controlled areas because the Civil War was still raging and one of the caveats to implementing the Proclamation was a Union victory.

On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army surrendered at Appotomax, officially marking the end of the Civil War. However, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that freedom reached the westernmost Confederate state of Texas. On this day, some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay and announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Texas were free. This day became known as Juneteenth, a blend of "June" and "nineteenth."

Photo by S. Ramone of Visit Philadelphia

Juneteenth has been celebrated for generations within African-American communities and is recognized as a time of reflection, joy, and cultural pride. The post-emancipation period known as Reconstruction (1865-1877) saw formerly enslaved people striving to reunite families, establish schools, and push for political and social change, showcasing their resilience and determination.

South Jersey offers a variety of ways to celebrate Juneteenth, allowing residents to honor this important day and its significance in American history. Here are some ways to join the festivities:

Photo by S. Ramone of Visit Philadelphia
  1. Community Events: Local organizations are hosting events across South Jersey. The African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey in Atlantic City will feature special exhibits and educational programs about Juneteenth’s history and significance. Camden’s Wiggins Waterfront Park will hold a day-long festival with music, food, and cultural performances.
  2. Educational Workshops: Libraries and community centers are offering workshops and lectures on the history of Juneteenth and the broader context of African American history. These events provide an opportunity for residents to learn and reflect on the struggles and triumphs of the African American community.
  3. Parades and Performances: Several areas, including Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Gloucester Township are organizing parades featuring local bands, dance troupes, and historical reenactments. These vibrant celebrations are a testament to the enduring spirit of Juneteenth.
  4. Family Gatherings and Picnics: Many families in South Jersey will celebrate Juneteenth with gatherings and picnics in local parks. These events often include traditional foods, storytelling, and games, fostering a sense of community and shared heritage.
  5. Supporting Black-Owned Businesses: Residents are encouraged to support Black-owned businesses throughout South Jersey. Patronizing local shops, restaurants, and services is a meaningful way to celebrate and uplift the community.
  6. Virtual Celebrations: For those who prefer to celebrate from home, there are numerous virtual events, including webinars, live-streamed performances, and online discussions. These events offer a way to participate in Juneteenth celebrations safely and conveniently.

Juneteenth is more than a celebration; it is a reminder of the enduring fight for equality and justice. As South Jersey joins in the festivities, residents are encouraged to reflect on the historical legacy of Juneteenth and the ongoing journey toward a more equitable society.

For more information on Juneteenth events in the Atlantic City area, please visit eventbrite.com, or for the Philadelphia area-visitphilly.com.

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