On June 19, 1865 word reached Galveston, Texas by way of Union soldiers that the Emancipation Proclamation, signed two and half years earlier, freed the 250,000 slaves in Texas. The delay in the news reaching Texas was largely due to a lack of a strong enough presence of the Union Army to actually enforce the proclamation. Some historians even believe the delay can be attributed to Texas slaveholders who had hoped to get one more crop out of their enslaved labor.1 That day in June became known among the freed enslaved Black people first as “Jubilee Day,” then later Juneteenth, a combination of June and nineteenth.
Several months later in December of 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was passed which formally abolished slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation and subsequently the Thirteenth Amendment, are traditionally characterized as acts of legal benevolence in order to free the slaves, but in fact hold a complicated narrative that is in part also related to military strategy for the Union Army. Nevertheless, freed slaves celebrated the day as a triumph and the honoring of a legacy of remarkable resilience under the horrible system of slavery.
Juneteenth is a reminder of the larger struggle of resistance and determination that is evident in Black communities on a daily basis, notably with Black farmers. Today, as BIPOC farmers fight for debt relief from years of systematic discrimination, we remember that this holiday is also an appreciation for the long struggle Black people have endured in this county, even in the midst of complicated histories and intentions.
In the spirit of Fannie Lou Hamer, Booker T. Whatley, Shirley Sherrod and others, Black farmers exercise their joy and freedom through the land they steward, the communities and families they feed and the traditions and practices that have sustained Black people for centuries. June 19th marks a pivotal moment in this nation’s history but represents more than just a mere moment on a timeline. Juneteenth is both a celebration of communal resilience and also an invitation for us all to continue the work of growing, collaborating, and fighting for equitable food economies for all.
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