For over 100 years African Americans in Texas and all over the country have been celebrating a special holiday--Juneteenth. The celebration of freedom is what Juneteenth is all about. Juneteenth, or June 19, 1865 marks the date when many of slaves in the state of Texas learned that they had been freed.
Let's go back in history before that special date to find out what life was like for many black people who were slaves. Slaves had no freedom to work and live as they chose. They were owned, like other possessions. If you were a slave child, you would not be allowed to attend school. (It was against the law to teach a slave to read and to write.) Your family might be separated for life if your owner decided to sell any one of them to someone else in another city or state.
Slaves had little time for play. Everyday life was more than difficult. They worked from early morning until late at night. Many times they were beaten if their owners did not feel they were working hard enough. Slaves were expected to do very hard, dirty, back-breaking work. They dug wells and canals, planted and tended crops, made furniture, shoed horses, and built houses. And they also cooked, cleaned, and took care of their owners' children. All of this, and so much more, they did without being paid. It is no wonder that slaves rebelled against their owners. Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, and Gabriel Prosser are but three who decided that they would rather die than be slaves. President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. (The Emancipation Proclamation freed only those slaves in the states fighting with the Union.) However, it was not until General Gordon Granger of the Union, or Northern, army arrived in Texas in 1865 that many of the slaves were informed that they had already been emancipated for over two years!
As the news spread throughout Texas, African Americans celebrated. Festive foods such as roast hogs and steers were prepared, music was played, and people danced and sang. Some dressed in fancy clothing. Games were played and stories told.
After black people were freed, they began a long struggle to gain equal rights with other citizens. More than one hundred years later, courageous men and women are still fighting for the civil rights of African Americans.
The Anacostia Museum celebrates Juneteenth with music and dances, speeches, stories, games, food and fun. As we celebrate, we should remember the black slaves in Texas and the joy and hope they felt on that long ago day in 1865. We should also remember the continuing struggle for equal rights and dignity, and take pride in our special heritage.
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