June 19 marks the day in 1865 when word reached African Americans in Texas that slavery in the United States had been abolished. More than two years earlier, on New Year’s Day, 1863, President Abraham Lincolnhad issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Delivered during the American Civil War, this proclamation ordered the freeing of all slaves in states that were rebelling against Union forces. The proclamation had little effect in Texas, where there were few Union troops to enforce the order.
News of the proclamation officially reached Texas on June 19, 1865, when a Union general backed by nearly 2,000 troops arrived in the city of Galveston. The general, Gordon Granger, publicly announced that slavery in the United States had ended. Reactions among newly freed slaves ranged from shock and disbelief to jubilant celebration. That day has been known ever since as Juneteenth, a name probably derived from the slang combination of the words June and nineteenth.
Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. Within a few years they had spread to other states and became an annual tradition. Celebrations often opened with praying and religious ceremonies and included a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. A wide range of festivities entertained participants, from music and dancing to contests of physical strength and intellect. Food was central to the celebrations, and barbecued meats were especially popular.
In the late 19th century, African Americans in the largely segregated South began migrating north and west in search of a better life. Many of these blacks transplanted their Juneteenth celebrations with them. African Americans continued to migrate from the South to other parts of the country during the late 1930s and 1940s. By World War II (1939-1945), however, Juneteenth celebrations began to decline. Historians cite several reasons for this. Many African Americans, removed by 70 years or more from the 1865 emancipation, were less inclined to carry forward the enthusiastic celebrations of earlier generations. In addition, some historians note that many African Americans wanted to distance themselves from vestiges of slavery.
Interest in Juneteenth celebrations further waned during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, when the holiday was associated with past repression and segregation. In some southern cities, Juneteenth was the only day each year when all-white local governments would permit African Americans to use city parks and zoos. In 1980 Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas. Since then, observance of Juneteenth has spread to other parts of the United States.
Today, Juneteenth celebrates freedom for African Americans in addition to many other themes, including education, self-improvement, African American accomplishments throughout history, and tolerance and respect for all cultures. Festivities may include parades, picnics, tributes and speeches, music, gospel performances, exhibitions, baseball games, rodeos, and other activities.
It is also a day that my heart is resolved about Roland Catubig. Maybe someone will read this blog of my mine. Sometimes I hate pestering him when he asked me to leave his life June 17, 2007. I guess some women could be like me…couldn’t accept the love breakage truth and went on a series of emotional realms and then the why-me questioning stage and finally a resolved stage like now that I make peace with myself and accepted the truth. It’s a Juneteeth day for my heart too, indeed.
by Chris Steele-Perkins
Jang Jum Dol was 14 and on the way to do laundry when she was taken by a Japanese man and told she was going to a factory to make money, but she was tied up in a house with an 11-year-old girl and then taken with some other girls to Manchuria. She tried to escape and was captured and beaten and kept at a sex station for the Japanese military which was surrounded by a wire fence. She had three children there and two of them died, the surviving girl had a weak heart. When she came back to Korea with her daughter after the war she was so poor they had to sleep in the streets. Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum Photos
2007 marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery within the British Empire. However, two hundred years later, it is estimated that 27 million people across the globe are still enslaved. To help raise awareness of this ongoing human rights crisis, Autograph ABP has commissioned nine Magnum photographers to document slavery as it exists around the world in the anniversary year of its abolition. A major exhibition of the work will open at the Royal Festival Hall in London in February 2008, and will include work on bonded labourers, child labourers, trade slavery, people trafficking, and domestic and sex slavery. Chris Steele-Perkins shares his experience of photographing "Comfort Women" in Korea for the project.
"I am sitting in a fire station in South Korea waiting for an incident on the quietest day of the year – so it seems an appropriate moment to write something briefly as it was in South Korea at the end of last year that I did my work for the Slavery project photographing Comfort Women."