Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Juneteenth Commemorations & Celebrations (information & videos)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information about the African American celebration of Juneteenth and provides examples of Juneteenth celebrations.

I'm particularly interested in the way that various Juneteenth celebrations throughout the United States include elements of traditional West African culture such as African dancing, drumming and (in one video African singing) and wearing traditional West African outfits made of kente cloth or other fabrics. I've noted examples of these that are found in some of the videos below, and included an editorial comment as an Addendum to this post.

The content of this post is provided for historical, cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who contributed to African American freedom. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to all those who are featured in the videos. In addition, thanks to the publishers of these YouTube sound files and videos.

"Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or neither of these version could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln's authority over the rebellious states was in question. For whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

General Order Number 3

One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:

"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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer."

The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former 'masters' - attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove the some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territory. The celebration of June 19th was coined "Juneteenth" and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date."...
Juneteenth has developed into a day to celebrate African American history and African American heritage, including African heritage - through parades, through formal cultural programs, and through community gatherings that include music, dance, and food.

However, it's important to note that Juneteenth isn't known or traditionally celebrated by a number of African Americans outside of the state of Texas. I believe that's particularly true for African Americans in the Eastern region of the United States who often weren't aware of Juneteenth until relatively recently, or may still not be aware of the historical significance of that day. For example, I was born and raised in New Jersey and have lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since the late 1960s. It wasn't until the late 1990s or early 2000s that I learned about Juneteenth when a now defunct Black "urban" radio station in Pittsburgh sponsored the first Juneteenth celebration event in that city. As I recall, in keeping with its sponsor, that event mostly showcased local R&B/Hip-Hop music groups. While some Pittsburgh community organizations may still sporadically hold cultural programs honoring Juneteenth on a Saturday or Sunday near that date, I don't believe that those celebrations are that big or that well known. That said, notice that the Eastern city of Buffalo, New York celebrated its 38th annual Juneteenth parade in 2013 as documented in a video found below.

Example #1: "The Roots of Juneteenth" - Galveston, TX

visitgalvestonisland, June 1, 2012

Every year visitors to Galveston, Texas "come home where it all began" to celebrate one of the largest Juneteenth celebrations in the country! Did you know Juneteenth-a holiday now celebrated by more than 40 states-began in Galveston, Texas? Galveston holds the distinction of being the place in the United States where the last slaves were freed. Find out more in this short video and don't forget to visit
Here's an excerpt from that website:
"Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society. - compliments of"

Example #2: Juneteenth - A Celebration of Freedom (Trailer) [Texas]

FASTCUTFILMS-TEXAS,uploaded on June 4, 2009

These examples are presented in chronological order based on their posting date on YouTube, with the oldest examples given first. The state from which the video comes is given in brackets.

Example #1: Juneteenth Parade 2013, 38th Annual Parade, Buffalo NY [New York]

Wil Images, Published June 19, 2013 [parade held on June 15, 2013
Notice that among the very wide range of educational, recreational, cultural, health & community services, and religious organizations/institutions that participated in this event, the parade also included steppers from a number of historically Black college & university fraternities & sororities. The inclusion of BGLO (Black Greek Lettered Organizations) documents the increased presence of undergraduate college & university Black Greek organization outside of their campuses as part of mainstream Black American culture. One result of that increased presence is the number of non-college/university Black step teams that have been created in Black American and other American communities since the 1980s. Click the Black fraternity and sorority steppin tag below to find pancocojams post on stepping.

Example #2: Juneteenth Parade 2013 [Texas]

KUT Austin, Published on June 16, 1013

Big crowds turn out for the annual Juneteenth parade
A highly anticipated and central facet of this parade is when paraders throw candy or hand candy to those watching the parade, especially children. The act of throwing desired objects to parade onlookers is also a feature of Louisiana Mardi Gras parades. I also recall that firemen threw candy to children during their annual parade when I was a child in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1950s.

Example #3: Boston's Juneteenth Celebration 2013 - Program Highlights [Massachusetts]

Uphams Corner News, June 29, 2013

Boston’s Juneteenth celebration at the Museum of African American Artists (6/19/2013) Keynote Speaker Professor Charles Ogletree, Harvard University, drumming and singing groups including Paige Academy and The Butterfly Project.
Notice the kente cloth that serves as a backdrop to the speakers’ podium, as well as the kente cloth outfit that is worn by the young girl at 2:5, and various patterns & colors of kente cloth stoles that are shown throughout this video, including the one which is worn by the vocalist who leads the attendees in singing "Lift Every Voice And Sing", which is known as the African American National Anthem [around 10:02]. Also, notice the inclusion of other examples of traditional West African clothing as well as West African dancing & drumming in this celebration.

Example #4: Neighborhood Block Association's 2013 Richmond California Juneteenth Parade & Celebration [California]

Djijaga, July 2, 2013
Notice the young people wearing kente cloth stoles as a commemoration of their African heritage [2:16-2:29]

Example #5: JuneTeenth Celebration with Dance [Ohio]

Socially Good TV, Published June 14, 2014

Watch highlights and learn about the Djapo Cultural Arts Institute ( and the Juneteenth Conference and Concert Weekend Celebration from Talise Cambell, Cleveland Ohio.
I'm not a dancer, but I've attended a considerably large number of African dance performances in the United States. This highlight trailer & the narration makes me wish that I could see a live performance of this dance group or groups. I wonder if some of the performers or the instructors are African or if the African American instructors/dancers traveled to an African country/countries to learn these dances. Kudus to these dancers for their adherence to traditional West African dance techniques/costumes and the high quality of their performances! And also kudus to the drummers and other musicians!

I believe that the inclusion of African drumming, African dancing, wearing traditional West African or West African inspired outfits and other elements of African culture into Juneteenth celebrations reflects the achievement of a Black cultural nationalist goal from that African American movement that flowered in the late 1960s/early 1970s. That goal was that our African heritage would be accepted by more African Americans as a legitimate and admired part of our past culture and our present day culture.

Three other examples of the normalization of traditional African culture as an expression of African American culture are the celebration of Kwanzaa, the African American custom of wearing kente cloth stoles during graduation ceremonies, and the celebration of African Day in churches during which church members are encouraged to wear African or African inspired outfits. Click for a pancocojams post on Kwanzaa. Also click " and for two of four posts in a pancocojams series about African Americans wearing kente cloth.

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1 comment:

  1. With regard to my comment about the greater acceptance of African culture as an expression of African American culture being a goal of 1960s/1970s (African American) Black cultural nationalism, during my junior and senior year of college (1968-1969), I was a member of Newark, New Jersey's Committee For Unified Newark. That organization was eventually led by (Imamu) Amiri Baraka who was formerly known as LeRoi Jones.

    One of the slogans that members of that Black cultural nationalist organization used to chant was "We are an African people".