Celebrating Juneteenth with Remembrance and Resistance

By Sameer Rao Jun 19, 2017

Black Americans and community organizations across the country celebrate Juneteenth today (June 19) with events and actions that honor Black liberation’s past and future.

As the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) describes on its website, Juneteenth traces back to the June 19, 1865, arrival of Union troops in Galveston Bay, Texas, at the tail-end of the Civil War. It was nearly two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which technically freed Blacks in the South, but could not be legally enforced in areas under Confederate control.

The NMAAHC’s tweet above quotes Union general Gordon Granger’s order enforcing the proclamation, which also highlights emancipation’s toxic hypocrisy: formerly enslaved people could not depend on protection from Union troops, so they continued working in exploitative circumstances. This relationship persisted through Reconstruction and Jim Crow, and its legacy remains in the systemic racism of police violence, White supremacist terrorism and mass incarceration.

Various groups are commemorating Juneteenth by honoring racial justice progress and contemporary activism in different ways.

The NMAAC livestreamed director Lonnie Bunch III’s tour of its "Slavery and Freedom" exhibit earlier today. Watch the tour below. It highlights several artifacts, including Nat Turner’s Bible and a cabin that housed escaped enslaved people.

The Movement for Black Lives is tackling one of emancipation’s failed promises—the guarantee of "40 acres and a mule"—with a nationwide day of direct actions to reclaim public and contested spaces for Black communities. The actions are part of the larger Black Land and Liberation Initiative, anchored by the BlackOUT Collective and Movement Generation, to coordinate land reclamation and reparations actions with local activism groups. Visit M4BL.net to find an action near you.