Why Juneteenth is more than just a barbecue

Collard greens, barbecued chicken, peach cobbler — combine these soul foods and some blues or jazz music with a large group of people, and you’ve got a Juneteenth festival. For several years, UAA and Anchorage have hosted multiple Juneteenth celebrations the week of June 19, and after listening to live music and eating more food than is probably healthy, everyone goes home happy and looking forward to next June when they get to do it all again. But what’s the point? What is Juneteenth, and why do we celebrate it?

If you don’t know the answer, you’re not alone. Most people don’t seem to have a clue what Juneteenth is all about, and that really is a shame, because it’s more than worth celebrating.

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, proclaiming that the Civil War was over and that the slaves were all free. The slaves, understandably so, were shocked and excited over the news, and while some remained with their masters to work for wages, others left immediately to mend scattered families and start new lives for themselves. Juneteenth became a festival celebrating this new freedom.

The unique and most interesting part of this is that the announcement that sparked the joy and celebrations came two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. There are many theories as to what delayed the enforcement in Texas, ranging from the lack of a Union foothold in the state until after the war down to the rumor that a messenger was murdered on the way to deliver the news to Texas. No matter what happened though, the slaves were still legally free two and a half years before they were made aware of it.

How many of you knew that? Most people think that enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation was immediate, and that slaves began walking off the plantations just as soon as they heard the news; in Texas, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. And unless you take the time to read the small print on the Juneteenth posters around campus or are curious enough to look it up online, you might never know the truth about this important time in American history: the day that slaves really became free.

UAA Student Activities does a great job with the annual Juneteenth barbecue and concert, but unless students are paying close attention, they can completely miss the point of it all, and that’s not fair to either Student Activities or the students, because so much hard work and planning goes into organizing the events.

TNL challenges Student Activities to up the educational ante on next year’s Juneteenth celebration: hold a public forum before the barbecue, schedule a guest speaker or even hand out informational pamphlets at the events themselves. All the hard work put into Juneteenth is worth more than students just showing up for free food and music; we should be assaulted with the knowledge of why Juneteenth is so important if we want to enjoy the results of your efforts.