What is Juneteenth?

Over the past few weeks, Lifeline has joined with thousands of companies and community based organizations around the world to stand in solidarity with the black community. Internally we’ve begun the discussion about what that actually means, and what our actions should be beyond just words. Laying the groundwork for change is not a simple fix, but North County Lifeline has a strong and sincere desire to be a part of the emerging solutions. For starters, we’ve had to recognize that there’s a lot about black history that we do not know. We’re taking this opportunity to educate ourselves, and along the way we want to share what we’ve learned with our supporters and community partners.

What is Juneteenth? Though recognized in 47 out of 50 states, the history and meaning behind this day has only been informally lauded since its inception. Our own Executive Director comes from Galveston, Texas - the city of Juneteenth’s origin, and he has acknowledged not carrying its recognition with him as he moved across the country. And now, we at Lifeline, have taken the opportunity to learn more and share why everyone seems to be talking about Juneteenth right now?

June 19th, or Juneteenth, marks the day hailed by many as the official ending of slavery in the United States and has been celebrated by diverse communities nationwide every year since 1866 on June 19th. We’ve searched the internet and talked to staff who are knowledgeable about Juneteenth, and here’s what we found:

The Emancipation Proclamation marked the official beginning of freedom, but NOT the end of slavery for most enslaved African Americans throughout the country. When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, thousands of slaves were freed each day, yet it was almost two and a half years before all slaves in the nation were informed of the order. On June 19, 1865, over two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union army at the Appomattox Court House, Maj. General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops were sent into Galveston, Texas. The first of his duties was to announce General Order No. 3 which read:

“The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor: The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

The slaves in Galveston, and in fact, most of Texas, were the last to be informed of their freedom, as it had seen very little of the Civil War embattlement. It was one of the few states who’s slaveholders held on to the practice of slavery for several more months beyond June 19, 1865. Once the 13th Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865, close to 4 million enslaved African Americans officially claimed the legal right to live as free men and women. However, that freedom continued to be a hard fought battle for many – with legalized slavery giving way to racial injustices against black people continuing throughout the country to this day. Jim Crow laws, lynching, unequal access to fair housing, vast educational disparities, and denial of voting rights replaced legalized slavery for many African Americans. Through all of this though, the hope that accompanied the original Juneteenth celebration has endured for over a century, and that is why we’re talking about it now – when hope is needed in this country more than ever before.

Since 1866, June 19th has been a day of celebration, recognition, and reflection for not only black communities, but for people of every color across the country. And we need more participation in that celebration and hope from all Americans. We simply cannot accept the stains of our country’s past without vowing to be a tool for its rebuilding. North County Lifeline is now, and has always been an advocate for all people – including black, indigenous, people of color, people at-risk, and people in need of assistance on their road to self-reliance. But we still recognize that there is more we can do to support the black community and be a balm for the souls of those who need to heal.

This is a part of our journey to advocate for and create meaningful change. For us, Juneteenth is a vehicle for conversations about the bigger picture and the questions that remain unanswered. Where do we go from here as a country? What can we do to affect change in our own community? Where do we start?

We start here! We can assure you that our words are not empty and our support is not in vain. As individuals, as an agency, and as a voice in our community…together we will rise!