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Juneteenth 2024: Celebrating Freedom and Advocating for Recognition in NH

Published Wednesday Jun 19, 2024

Author NH Center for Justice & Equity

Juneteenth 2024: Celebrating Freedom and Advocating for Recognition in NH

As we approach the middle of June, we must reflect on an often-overlooked event in American history: Juneteenth. Celebrated annually on June 19th, Juneteenth marks the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved Black Americans in the United States. This day represents freedom and a step toward justice and equity. However, despite its profound significance and being a Federal holiday, Juneteenth is still not recognized as an official holiday in some states, including New Hampshire.

The History of Juneteenth

As we know, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect in 1963, was not immediately enforced in places under Confederate control. As a result, not all Black Americans were free until after the end of the Civil War.  

Juneteenth, a blend of "June" and "nineteenth,” commemorates the day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, proclaiming the freedom of over 250 thousand enslaved people in that state by executive decree. Slavery was made illegal six months later, on December 6th, 1865, when Georgia finally became the 27th state to ratify the 13th Amendment, fulfilling the requirement that three-quarters of the states approve of a Constitutional amendment. 

“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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

— General Order No. 3, read to the people of Galveston, Texas, on June 19th, 1865.

Juneteenth Celebrations Throughout the Years

The first Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas in 1866, involving prayer and religious services, inspirational speeches and stories from formerly enslaved people, food, and music, which was an important part of the culture of enslaved people, accounting for most of today’s popular genres

Clothing also played an essential role in these celebrations, with bright, vibrant outfits representing a way for newly freed people to express themselves. Over the years, the colors of the 1920s Pan-African flag - black, green, and red - were commonly worn and used in decorations. In 1997, Boston-based activist Ben Haith created the Juneteenth flag. With a lone star in the middle, this Juneteenth emblem intentionally shares the colors of the American flag - red, white, and blue - as a reminder that formerly enslaved Black people and their descendants are Americans. 

Today, Juneteenth stands as a powerful symbol of resilience and the enduring struggle for equality and justice for people of color. It is a day for Black Americans to honor their ancestors, celebrate their culture, history, and achievements, and reflect on the challenges that remain, especially as hate and backward racist rhetoric rise in the United States. Recognizing Juneteenth helps to acknowledge the grim history of slavery in the United States and the lasting impacts of systemic racism, deeming justice as an ongoing pursuit.

How Juneteenth Became a Federal Holiday

Juneteenth is often referred to as America’s second Independence Day. However, it was not until 2021, over 150 years after the fact, that this historical event was elevated to federal holiday status, despite being celebrated by many for over a century.

The road to Juneteenth’s recognition was long and not without outrage. The renewed focus on racial justice following the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other Black Americans catalyzed a deeper conversation about America's history of systemic racial inequality and an urgency for change. In this environment, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law on June 17, 2021, finally making June 19th a federal holiday. This landmark decision was a significant step toward giving Juneteenth the importance and recognition it deserves.

Efforts Toward Recognition in New Hampshire

Despite its federal status, Juneteenth is not universally recognized as an official state holiday. In New Hampshire, it has been a day of observance since July 13, 2019, meaning that while it is acknowledged and celebrated by many, it does not come with the official status that includes state-wide closures and broader public recognition. Additionally, official recognition would likely lead to broader public awareness and participation, as well as educational initiatives in schools that could foster a deeper understanding of the historical significance of Juneteenth.

In 2023, over half of U.S. states recognized Juneteenth as an official public holiday. Influenced by this number, efforts to elevate Juneteenth to the status of an official public holiday in New Hampshire are underway. Local activists, community leaders, and legislators recognize the importance of formally acknowledging this critical day in American history. 

A senate bill sponsored by Senator Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, D-Portsmouth, sought to establish June 19, Juneteenth, as an annual state holiday in New Hampshire, along with other holidays such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Independence Day. NH SB481 was passed by the Senate by voice vote on April 11, 2024. However, it was voted Inexpedient to Legislate in May 2024 and did not move forward.  

The journey toward making Juneteenth an official holiday in New Hampshire is reflective of the state’s broader struggle for racial justice and equity. As New Hampshire grows more diverse, the recognition of Juneteenth as an official state holiday represents an opportunity for the Granite State to “walk the talk” of its commitments to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). If passed, this would be a significant step toward a more inclusive and equitable society, where all voices are heard and celebrated.

The New Hampshire Center for Justice and Equity fully supports this transition, as it would provide a platform for education, reflection, and celebration, ensuring that the legacy of Juneteenth continues to inspire future generations. Through these efforts, residents of New Hampshire can contribute to a movement that honors the past, acknowledges the present, and looks forward to a future where freedom and equality are truly for all. Despite the lack of official recognition, many local groups have important events planned for Junteeth.

Juneteenth Celebrations in New Hampshire

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