Juneteenth’s holiday status underscores message of freedom

GHENT –Last year Juneteenth became a federal holiday when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. All schools in the county will be closed on Monday, June 20 as well as county and municipal offices to commemorate the day.

The Hudson Area Library has compiled a list of events and educational resources “for those who wish to learn more about and commemorate this celebration of African American freedom,” according to their website. Information is at hudsonarealibrary.org/juneteenth/

Also, listed on the site, are local events including Hudson’s Third Annual Juneteenth Celebration at Hudson Waterfront Park. The events include an outdoor film screening of “Miss Juneteenth” (Friday, June 17, 7 to 10 p.m.), the Revival of the Fittest Lipsync Show (Saturday, June 18, 7 to 10 p.m.), and a day-long celebration with music, vendors, local artist showcase, youth talent show, games and prizes, wellness check ins, and community conversations (Sunday, June 19, from noon to 9 p.m.).

The weather was perfect Sunday, June 20, 2021 for last year’s Juneteenth celebration in Hudson. It was held in the Hudson Waterfront Park with food, merchandise, art, music and activities for kids. Pictured was seven-year-old Harmoni Hammond demonstrating the bubble frisbee. In the kids’ zone, Zyquan Hamilton demonstrated the bubble frisbee. Photo by David Lee

The Kinderhook Memorial Library and the Village of Kinderhook are also hosting a Juneteenth Celebration at Rothermel Park on Rothermel Avenue, June 18 at 2 p.m., with guests from Operation Unite NY. Kuumba Dance & Drum Academy will be leading a drum circle and special guest Operation Unite Director Elena Mosley will lead a storytime about the origins and significance of Juneteenth. After the story, crafts, and songs, families will march across the field to the Person’s of Color Cemetery, which is in the park, for a dedication from Rev. Kim Singletary

“Juneteenth” combines the words of “June” and “nineteen” into one word and is regarded as African American Independence Day. It commemorates the date, June 19, 1865, when Africans living in Texas learned of their freedom from slavery, though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued 2 1/2 years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln.

The reading of the proclamation by General Gordon Granger of the Union Army, in Galveston, Texas, that “… all slaves are free” and that it “involves an absolute equality of rights… between former masters and slaves…” prompted a 10-day celebration among the previously enslaved. Discarding their rags and donning new garments, revelers indulged in feasting, playing and prayer—activities normally denied to them and conducted clandestinely.

The original Juneteenth celebration centered around a barbecue pit where succulent dishes of lamb, beef, and pork were prepared; strawberry soda-pop was the favored beverage. Favorite activities included: fishing, horseback riding, rodeos and baseball. Storytelling that recounted past experiences was a constant ritual as were prayer and the singing of spirituals.

Ignoring a caveat to remain in place, the proclamation sparked a migration of sorts as the formerly enslaved traveled to the neighboring states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and beyond to spread the message of freedom and to search for kin from whom they long had been separated.

Annual Juneteenth celebrations sustained African-American communities through the post-Reconstruction Era, although some communities chose to celebrate the date when they officially learned of their freedom or the original signing date of January 1. When authorities sought to ban the festivities on public property, church grounds were used; and some communities pooled money towards the purchase of parkland. In 1898 a parcel was purchased in Houston for $1,000 and named Emancipation Park.

Juneteenth celebrations were most enthusiastically embraced in rural communities; employers in urban areas were loathe to give workers time off. Unless June 19 fell on a Sunday, no festivities marked the day. The Great Depression, world wars, transition from an agrarian economy to industrialization, and the replacement of oral tradition with a formal education system that emphasized the legal date of January 1, 1863, contributed to the demise of Juneteenth celebrations.

The Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and ’60s witnessed a resurgence of interest in Juneteenth celebrations, especially in the South; and the 1968 Poor Peoples March on Washington sparked Juneteenth initiatives across the country.

In addition to the national holiday, the District of Columbia and all 50 states officially recognize Juneteenth as state holidays. South Dakota became the last state to do so in 2021.

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