JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Juneteenth is the annual celebration of the end of slavery in the United States.
It’s also known as Emancipation Day, Juneteenth Independence Day and Black Independence Day.
It’s not a new celebration, but for the first time ever -- amid growing conversations about racial injustice in America -- major companies and businesses, including Nike, Twitter, Best Buy and Allstate, are acknowledging the day as an official holiday.
“This is a celebration about (the fact) that we made it despite what our ancestors suffered -- humiliation, the rapes, the dehumanizing of our ancestors,” said Adonnica Toler, administrator and historian at The Ritz Theatre & Museum. “We’re still here. We’re still producing.”
The Ritz Theatre & Museum in the LaVilla neighborhood, which has been known as the Harlem of the South, celebrates and teaches African American history and culture daily.
For African Americans, Juneteenth has long been a day of celebration, reflection and observance.
“Juneteenth is just something that symbolizes a much greater celebration -- a greater celebration, a greater, richer heritage of a group of people who, despite being oppressed in a nation, brought here against their will in many cases, we’re still producing,” Toler said. “Now we still have our challenges, but we recognize we are a strong people. We recognize we have contributed to this country. We recognize we have great things we want to do. We also recognize we still have a lot more to fight for.”
On June 19, 1865, African American slaves in Galveston, Texas, found out they were free more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
At the time Lincoln issued the proclamation, there weren’t enough Union troops to enforce it.
Now, more than 150 years later, there’s a nationwide push for observance, but some say just recognizing the day isn’t enough to move race relations forward.
“It’s our responsibility to take the baton and go to the next level and face every challenge, and the challenge is huge,” Toler said. “It’s not just education. It’s politics, it’s medicine, it’s everywhere, it’s business. I mean I commend these businesses who are acknowledging Juneteenth as a holiday, but what does your board look like? What does your leadership administration look like?”
Acknowledging Juneteenth on a national level for some is a step in the right direction. But the walk toward racial equality in this country will be long, Toler said.
“We’re not asking for something that we didn’t earn or deserve. In fact, we just want you to get out of the way. If this is the country of the land of the free, the home of the brave and the opportunity is there and all you have to do is go get it, get out of the way. We’ll go get it,” Toler said. “Stop creating laws and policies, and stop teaching your children that we’re less than because we have darker skin, we have kinky hair, or whatever it is.”
Many people who have now been given this day off work are encouraged to have critical conversations about race, learn the history of the day, and see how they can move the battle against racial inequality forward.
Jacksonville native James Weldon Johnson, a civil rights activist, also received an honor for Juneteenth, courtesy of Google.
In honor of the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, Google doodle on the search engine’s homepage is featuring a video of the history of the holiday -- set to Johnson’s song, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” which is considered by many to be the “Black National Anthem.”