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Juneteenth and the Celebration of Marginalized Voices

The Doe Team

by The Doe Team

| June 9, 2022

Read about the meaning of Juneteenth, other important holidays and why remembering is crucial.

The last two years have brought an echo of the same question for many: What is Juneteenth? Let’s start the conversation with an abridged history lesson.

On June 19, 1865, General Order Number 3 was delivered by Major General Gordon Granger across Galveston, Texas: 'The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.'" Though it would take time for many to see their freedom, Juneteenth became the day of African American emancipation and was celebrated for the first time on June 19, 1866.

A blend of the month June and date nineteenth, Juneteenth became a day of celebration, from picnics and readings to concerts and parades.

However, the United States wouldn’t recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday until 2021.

Many ask, why did it take over 150 years to recognize a holiday that ended slavery in the United States?

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Recent Recognition

It’s been a long road of advocacy to see the holiday federally recognized, but beyond federal recognition, many didn’t know the holiday existed until recently.

Many believe the American education system is at fault for this lack of awareness; for example, a study by the National Museum of African American History and Culture surmised that a total of only 8-9% of class time in U.S. history courses are dedicated to Black history, a staggeringly low number considering the foundation on which the country was built.

In that small percentage of class time, there was less emphasis on learning about the lives of enslaved people compared to the focus on the Emancipation Proclamation signing.

To support this theory, many states have restricted teaching structural racism, making it difficult to teach the roots of Juneteenth. And for those who do teach it, standards don’t necessarily require the amount of information about slavery and emancipation you might think, a UCLA article discusses.

But if not in the classroom, where else does one learn about crucial moments in history?

Opal Lee, an advocate affectionately referred to as “the grandmother of Juneteenth,” believes much of the awareness around the holiday has come to light from media attention around police brutality as of late, and furthermore, sees this an opportunity to learn and unify.

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How National Holidays Are Changing

Juneteenth isn’t the only holiday that brings awareness to the dark vignettes in U.S. history while celebrating marginalized voices.

When learning about WWII, the internment of Japanese Americans certainly isn’t in every history curriculum. In February 1942, President Roosevelt delivered Executive Order 9066, an order that ultimately forced West Coast Japanese Americans to evacuate their homes and live in internment camps for up to three years in brutal conditions, for their “protection.” 

Now February 19 is the Day of Remembrance, a holiday observed mostly on the West Coast to acknowledge the dangers of neglecting minority civil liberties and the racial disparity that led to mass unjust incarceration.

Beyond awareness, some holidays are even experiencing a name change, radically emphasizing the darker parts to place power back into the hands of the people it was once taken from.

In October 2021, President Joe Biden proclaimed October 11 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the United States. This change places an emphasis on the voices of the marginalized and removes Christopher Columbus as a revered figure, instead illuminating the detrimental effect his exploration had on indigenous people in North America.

Renaming, acknowledging and celebrating holidays that belong to the marginalized are important parts of the racial reckoning the United States is experiencing.

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Why These Holidays Are on the Calendar

Though it took years to make Juneteenth a holiday and recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it’s important to talk about why holidays that celebrate marginalized communities belong on the calendar.

Consider why we make any day a holiday: to remember why something exists, whether it’s the legacy of an extraordinary human being or to mark the beginning or end of a significant event. It’s the same reason we learn all the corners of history and engage in dialogue—to move toward a future that appreciates diversity and has reverence for the painful road traveled to get there.

It’s imperative that despite how somber these stories are, we continue to deepen our understanding of a country’s complex history.

Final Thoughts

There is still much to learn about history and the effects it currently has socially and culturally. If you’re wondering, “What can I do?” you can celebrate marginalized voices. Start by checking out some of the fantastic narratives we have that focus on Black voices.

Expanding our perspectives will always be a reason to celebrate. Head over to our narratives to read more.

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