Learn the History of Juneteenth; Join the Celebrations This Week

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

A Message from Carmen Laguer Diaz, Part-time Faculty, Anthropology and Alyce Miller, Professor, History

Juneteenth is a celebration of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. That’s why you will sometimes see it referred to as Emancipation Day. The word “Juneteenth” is a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth.” The color red is prominent in typical Juneteenth celebrations as it represents the strength and sacrifices, often made in blood, of enslaved people.

On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General (and future president) Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Many enslaved people did not necessarily learn of the Confederate defeat and thus their own legal emancipation for some time, and many remained enslaved until Union soldiers arrived on scene to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. The reason for Juneteenth being celebrated on June 19th is that many enslaved people in Texas did not learn of their emancipation until June 19, 1865. 1865 was a big year. The 13th amendment abolishing slavery was passed by Congress in February 1865 and ratified by the states in December 1865 as well.

After the 13th Amendment, slavery continued in other forms (such as convict labor), and former slaveholders throughout the South tried to find ways around, or just flatly ignored, this emancipation decree. Because of these efforts of slaveholders to hang onto slavery at all costs, coupled with the slow pace of communication at the time, many enslaved people did not feel the effects of emancipation right away. In fact, embracing their emancipation was actually dangerous for freedmen and freedwomen, as now former slaveholders throughout the South tried to maintain white supremacy and their access to free labor.

On the one hand, the date of June 19, 1865, seems rather odd and rather late. After all, hadn’t the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the Confederacy two and a half years earlier? Well, remember, this was only on paper, as those states in rebellion were not about to listen to what the president of the Union they were in rebellion against told them. But hadn’t approximately 200,000 Black men enlisted in the Union army to fight against the Confederacy and for emancipation? Isn’t June 19, 1865, then, rather late to be celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people?

There has actually been a lot of debate about what was the best date to celebrate emancipation. Frederick Douglass, for example, was partial to January 1st, the day the Emancipation Proclamation went into force. June 19 won out though, in part because of the success of the participants of the 1968 Poor People’s March in bringing the ideas and celebrations of Juneteenth back to their respective home communities after the March ended.

In Florida, we don’t only celebrate on June 19. This is because in Florida, Confederate soldiers surrendered to Union soldiers led by Union General Edward M McCook, and the Emancipation Proclamation was read by General McCook on the steps of the Knott House in Tallahassee on May 20, 1865. Thus, May 20 is Emancipation Day in Florida.

There are many Juneteenth celebrations throughout Florida on June 19, as well as on May 20. Please join us during these Juneteenth celebrations at Valencia College:

Tiffany Packer, Ph.D. Juneteenth Discussion
Date: Thursday, June 17, 2021
Time: 3 – 4 p.m.
Location: Zoom

The Valencia African Heritage Association (VAHA) and Valencia’s Senior Leadership Team are co-sponsoring a talk by Dr. Tiffany Packer, associate professor of history at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Dr. Packer has done extensive research on the 1979 Greensboro Massacre and has a particular focus on post-civil rights activism in Black working-class communities. She will share her insights on the impact of Juneteenth and will engage with us in an open question and answer session.

VAHA Juneteenth and Black Music Month Event
Date: Friday, June 18, 2021
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Zoom

VAHA will host a Juneteenth event as part of the Black Music Month celebrations. Stop by on Zoom for the celebration, which will include soul and gospel music.

For additional resources on Juneteenth, visit the Division of Library and Information Sciences website or the Valencia College LibGuide. You may also view the video below:

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