On January 1, 1863, the 16th United States President, Abraham Lincoln, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring "that all persons held as slaves" . . . "are, and henceforward shall be free." However, slaveholders in Texas, the western-most area of the Union, kept this news to themselves until two and a half years later. Finally, on June 19, 1865, enslaved people in this state were told of their freedom. The following year, the first Juneteenth celebration was held in Texas to recognize freedom from slavery in the United States.
Juneteenth, considered the longest running holiday in African American and Black communities, became a federal holiday in 2021 when Congress passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. To recognize the day, we spoke to members of our Mosaic Employee Resource Group (ERG) to get their thoughts on Juneteenth and what it means to them.
What does Juneteenth mean to you and why is it important to recognize?
“Juneteenth is recognition of a very pivotal part of American history – not solely black history,” says Shani R., Director, Strategy & Operations. “I grew up in the Midwest with an inherited understanding of the significance of Juneteenth and its place in history as a celebration of people who were enslaved and whose freedom was intentionally hidden and delayed. Often in the face of criticism and/or lack of understanding, the descendants of said people have continued the holiday in reverence of the sacrifice and strength of the ones that came before them.”
“Juneteenth was monumental for Black people in America who were long awaiting freedom,” adds Bria C., Associate Product Manager. “It is so important to learn about Juneteenth even for those not celebrating because it also shows how often justice is delayed for Black people and can serve as a reminder to celebrate how far we have come as people while recognizing that there is more work to be done."
Jannell W., Product Assistant, adds, “Juneteenth is a celebratory and joyous time for African Americans to authentically celebrate freedom in the United States. Juneteenth is important to recognize because it reminds and teaches each generation about American history. There’s a lot of power in knowing where you come from.”
“My oldest son happened to be born on June 19 in a year that Juneteenth was also Father's Day, so the day has a special place in my heart,” says Aaron E., Senior Technical Content Developer. “To me, Juneteenth is a mixed bag. It means a legacy redefined, a promise reaffirmed and a hope to be delivered. It is also a legacy forgotten, a promise reneged and a hope still yet to be delivered. It’s a starting point, but sadly one we have returned to time and again. It shouldn't have been necessary. So, to remember Juneteenth, to recognize it, is to bring forward this legacy and hope that one day, we will fulfill the promise of our founders, and back up our declaration that all are truly created equal.”
How do you think the elevation of Juneteenth as a national holiday helps recognize the importance of the day?
"The elevation of this regionally and culturally celebrated holiday to national prominence is but one step in the evolution of the American consciousness around race,” says Shani. “The story of Juneteenth provides a different perspective of the civil war. In this way, the holiday is an important reminder that the lens through which a story is told can very much impact the collective memory of historic events, and the subsequent legacy on marginalized communities.”
“I think that the holiday being recognized so late can show the historical delay in recognition and justice for Black centered feats,” adds Bria. “I am so glad it became a national holiday because it has allowed so many more people, especially outside of southern states and in predominantly white spaces to learn about the holiday, its meanings and its history."
“When this happened, I was living in a more rural area. I remember being more nervous than anything to see how non-Black people in my area would react as it was a point of contention for some,” said Bria. “I remember people looking for ways to show support and who were excited. At the same time there were people that became really upset at this becoming a Holiday – but I always reminded myself that this is deserved and not everyone will ingest it the same way. Overall, it was symbolic for the future of Black people in America to be able to be recognized in large spaces and at National levels and it set the tone for future events.”
Although Juneteenth was celebrated for decades before it became a national holiday, its importance is now elevated because the entire nation is aware and recognizes this special day,” says Jannell. “Just being aware opens the door for understanding, compassion and gratitude. I’m proud of the resiliency and growth in this country.”
Aaron adds, “Juneteenth becoming a national holiday hopefully brings some hidden history to the forefront, which I was glad for. I hope that it will continue to be as serious, and as joyful, as the years go on and the reason for it does not get forgotten.”
How do you plan to celebrate Juneteenth?
"This year will be so different,” says Bria. “I have relocated to Atlanta, which is a mecca for the Black community. Black achievements in all kinds of industries have flourished here and there is a consortium of four largely recognized historically Black colleges and Universities right in Atlanta. There are so many events and celebrations to choose from, all weekend long, day and night - from events showcasing the history to celebratory concerts. It’ll be a new experience for me celebrating in an area where I can just participate in events instead of organizing them.”
“I always make sure to celebrate with my son so that he can learn the history in a fun way,” adds Bria. “I am glad that this will be normal for him. When we lived in New York, I was on a committee that brought the first Juneteenth celebration to our area. I felt so proud that my son was able to see something like that and experience so much community support at such a young age. This event really helped Black community members feel comfortable sharing personal experiences, poetry, music, and family fashions and traditions in a safe space. It was beautiful to witness.”
“Since it is my son's birthday, we usually celebrate his day with friends and family. My children are all still young, so I do look forward to the time when I can bring them to a fuller understanding of what else the day means,” says Aaron.
Jannell says, “To celebrate Juneteenth, my family will host a picnic full of celebratory activities including poetry, storytelling, music, singing and dancing. This year we will welcome live music by the Cultural Dred Band and many friends and family will travel across the country to enjoy one another. It’s a happy time for my family and Juneteenth connects us with each other in a special way.”
Shani says the community where she grew up and her current community will acknowledge the day with parades, church services, service awards, film festivals, concerts and other community events. Finally, Shani added: “As everyone decides how to spend this day, I offer this African proverb as encouragement to listen and lift the voices of those in communities who have or continue to face disenfranchisement: ‘Until the lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.’”
Honoring Juneteenth with Art
Takeyce W., Senior Media Producer and co-lead of Mosaic, is recognizing Juneteenth in her own unique and creative way. “I wanted to create a video that highlights how our Mosaic members appreciate and celebrate this significant holiday. ‘Celebrating Juneteenth’ features visual content from our Gale archives that highlights how everyday Americans celebrate freedom across the country. Many thanks to our members who participated!”
To recognize Juneteenth last year, two Cengage Group employees who are subject matter experts in U.S. History, compiled a list of suggested reading that focuses on Black agency during the Civil War through the official Emancipation Proclamation as well as Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) and into the early phases of Reconstruction.
Many cities and towns across the U.S. are holding Juneteenth celebrations. Find a Juneteenth celebration near you.