Do you know the importance of Juneteenth? If you said no, then you’re not alone. A majority of US citizens have no idea of the significance of Juneteenth and its impact on American history.
“I didn’t know…I feel like it’s something I should have known,” said Ramona Bynum, an Atlanta native. On this day, we honor the bravery and resilience of our ancestors, as they have paved away for future generations.
On June 19, 1865, marks the date when Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform troops of the surrender of the Confederate army.
An order from the General read, “The people of Texas 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 rights 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 quietly 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.”
But Granger wasn’t just a few months late, according to famed historian Henry Louis Gates. The Emancipation Proclamation itself, ending slavery in the Confederacy (at least on paper), had taken effect two-and-a-half years before, and, in the interim, close to 200,000 black men had enlisted in the fight.
Organizations and establishments in and around Metro Atlanta annually host a plethora of events for the community. Last weekend, Juneteenth Atlanta—a non-profit organization that leads Juneteenth celebrations in the city—hosted its largest ever parade & music festival at the Home Depot Backyard at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta-based music artist and reality TV star Angie Stone served as the organization’s 2019 Juneteenth ambassador general for the three-day music and cultural festival that featured countless music and cultural acts, including African dance, singers and spoken word artists.
For Kawan Arnold, an Atlanta native who resides in College Park, the holiday holds special significance considering the long-lasting impact of American slavery on Southern states.
“(Juneteenth) means a lot to me actually it means more to me based on the fact that I was raised in the South and that I still live in the South,” she explained. “The day is a reminder that we weren’t really given equal rights but that we were no longer able to be enslaved.”
Gee Smalls, co-owner of Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen & Bar and a Charleston, S.C. native, hosted a preview of the restaurant “in celebration of Juneteenth, which is freedom for all black people.”
“That is the day that it was the official end of slavery, that’s our real independence day,” said Smalls, who—with his husband and restaurant co-owner Juan—has done significant work in advocacy and Civil Rights for the LGBTQ community.
The Smalls’ restaurant in College Park, which has been under renovation since March, is set to open in July. Smalls said it will be themed on the Gullah-Geechee culture, which is most common among African Americans who live in the Lowcountry coastal region of Georgia and South Carolina.
“(In the Gullah), we speak a bit differently, we also eat a bit differently, we also have a lot of arts and crafts that are a bit different like sweet grass fest and things of that nature,” Smalls said. “Here we are celebrating not only freedom for all black people but also celebrating one of the oldest black cultures in America here at Virgil’s Gullah Kitchen & Bar.”
Like Smalls, many African-Americans recognize Juneteenth as the country’s official independence day, because it signifies “freedom” for all.
As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “no one is free until we are all free.”