Celebrating America’s “second” Independence Day: Juneteenth

By Maya GreenJune 16, 2023

Juneteenth flag
Courtesy graphic (Photo Credit: Sgt. Eliezer Melendez, 113th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment) VIEW ORIGINAL

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Juneteenth is a celebration of many names: Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day and America’s “second” Independence Day. Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the Confederacy.

Juneteenth National Independence Day began with Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger’s use of military control to formally enforce provisions of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Texas, for the first time after two years of resistance. Granger and his troops traveled to Galveston, Texas to issue General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865.

After Army intervention, large celebrations of emancipation, also known as jubilees, spread across the nation as America fulfilled its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for Black Americans.

On June 18, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, thereby proclaiming June 19, 2021, as Juneteenth Day of Observance. Notably, Opal Lee was a special guest to the president’s signing. Lee is infamously known as the grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Her activism was unstoppable on her mission to highlight Juneteenth and ensure federal recognition.

How to celebrate Juneteenth

Juneteenth represents ongoing efforts for true equity and racial justice for Black Americans. By celebrating each year, Black Americans showcase their great spirit of strength and resiliency in the face of adversity and discrimination.

Juneteenth celebrations stem from early, traditional jubilees. Common traditions are public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation; musical performances of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”; and readings of literature by writers Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou.

Modern celebrations consist of cookouts, neighborhood block parties, church services, musical performances, parades, festivals, speeches and educational events.

For food and drink, there is a common theme of red. Red represents sacrifice, transition and power. Red Juneteenth foods and refreshments to consume are soda, punch, hibiscus tea, red beans and rice, red velvet cake, strawberries and watermelon.

Another vital element to Juneteenth foods is barbeque. Many Black Americans deem this the most important component to the menu. Savory meats smoked and covered in barbeque sauce call the community together to barbeque pits to cook pork, chicken, ribs, sausage and brisket.

Lastly, the final component to the Juneteenth table is the “prosperity” side dish. These sides represent good omens and fortunes. Historically, many of these food items were crops most accessible to the enslaved and are known today as “soul food.” Some popular prosperity sides are corn, collard greens, cabbage, sweet potatoes or yams, cornbread, okra and potatoes.

The Army’s role

For the Army, Juneteenth honors Black Soldiers that fought and sacrificed to ensure the Constitution’s promise to all Americans no matter their color, race or ethnicity. Take note this holiday of the courageous and selfless acts of Black Soldiers, like the XXV Corps and 10th Colored Infantry, who helped solidify the rewards from the Civil War, therefore opening the door to widespread military service for Black men for the first time in American history.

The Army’s role in liberating enslaved persons throughout the Confederacy as one of its core legacies will never be forgotten.