La historia del Juneteenth: día festivo en Estados Unidos

Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the United States that marks the day, June 19, 1865, that enslaved people were freed in Galveston, Texas. The name Juneteenth comes from the combination of the words June and Nineteenth. It is also sometimes called Black Independence Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Jubilee Day. Juneteenth only recently became a national holiday, in 2021; however, it has been celebrated by Black Americans since 1866.

The International Institute hosts hundreds of American University students who come to study abroad and use our building as their base of operations in Madrid. Juneteenth is something our Spanish community members might not know about yet, so we asked Lauren Vander Pas, an exchange student from the University of Minnesota, to help us survey some of the American exchange students from other programs currently in the building to find out how Juneteenth is commemorated in the US.

“It’s a very important holiday that should be observed and that everyone should recognize nationally because it has a lot of significance about freedom and freedom from slavery and just freedom in general, especially empowerment of African American individuals in the United States,” said Camila , an American student who studies Theatre at Southern Methodist University.

The American Civil War 

The freeing of enslaved people in the United States was one of the results of the American Civil War, which began in 1861 and ended in 1865. It is often said that the war revolved around states’ rights. When we look closely, we see that disputes about slavery were at the heart of it. Some states believed that the federal government had too much control over economic policies, especially those that pertained to slavery. Southern States depended heavily on slave labor to keep their farms running, while Northern States were less dependent (or, less directly dependent) on slavery for their economic stability.

 United States President Abraham LincolnIn 1860, a presidential election was held. The Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, used his electoral campaign to assert that slavery was immoral and should not be allowed to expand. He did not believe he had the power to end slavery in states that already had it, but he vowed to prevent new states from having slaves. When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861, seven southern states declared their intention to leave the Union, to secede, and they founded the Confederacy. This was the beginning of the American Civil War.

After a Union victory in 1862, President Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that all slaves in Confederate states were to be freed as of January 1, 1863. However, the Emancipation Proclamation did not include those slave-holding states loyal to the Union; it only applied to territories outside of Lincoln’s control. Nonetheless, it set a new tone for the war and made it clear to the Confederacy and other countries abroad that the Union was fighting not just for its own preservation but to free enslaved people. 

The American Civil War finally ended in April of 1865, almost exactly four years after it began. Although the war ended in April with the Union victorious, meaning that the Emancipation Proclamation could then be enforced in the Confederate states, the news did not spread immediately to all. Some people far in the Southern states did not inform the slaves and kept operating as before. The federal government had to send military troops into the south to ensure that all enslaved people were freed. Galveston, Texas, being very far south, was one of the last places that the government reached. On June 19, 1865, the enslaved people there were freed. It’s important to note that these were not, in fact, the very last enslaved people to be freed because the Emancipation Proclamation did not extend to the slave states that had been loyal to the Union. It would take the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865 to finally and definitively abolish slavery in the entire US.

However, it was the liberation of the slaves in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 that gave rise to the first Juneteenth celebrations. The very next year, celebrations on June 19th were held in Texas. Gradually the customs of commemoration moved out from Texas, and eventually spread throughout the United States. People have long celebrated by hosting barbecues, prayer services, and listening to music. Sometimes celebrations have included readings of the Emancipation Proclamation.


Modern Day Celebrations

Juneteenth is still celebrated today, throughout the United States, and the celebrations have become bigger than ever before, with parades, music festivals, and marches being held alongside more private family or neighborhood celebrations. There are both formal, public events for large groups of people, and more informal events for friends and family.

A family of Black Americans gathered together to celebrate Juneteenth

“There’s some parades near where I live,” reported Soesae, a 21-year-old student from New York. 

“I know some people go out with their families, they go out to eat, they do other things,” said Adrana, a student from Miami. 

Even though many people celebrate Juneteenth in the United States, there are some who do not so much celebrate as raise awareness. Some organize protests for Juneteenth to further advocate for Black Americans’ rights. Camila from Southern Methodist University explained, “A lot of people spread awareness on Juneteenth. Right now, since it’s a new thing it’s a great time to spread awareness about the history and it’s a big celebration of freedom and looking at how far we’ve come as a country and how far we still need to go.”

While they are in Spain, many American students want to acknowledge Juneteenth, especially online. “I definitely will spread information on my social media accounts,” says Camila. However, many students in Spain this year do not have in-person plans to mark the holiday, stating that they are simply not aware of what’s happening here. “I don’t know of any events that are occurring but I’ll definitely look into what events are going on on Juneteenth,” said Matthew, an Economics major at Cornell University.



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