Juneteenth: A Time of Reflection and Rejoicing
Juneteenth: A Time of Reflection and Rejoicing
On June 19th, we celebrate Juneteenth (June + 19th), commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On that day in 1865, General Gordon Granger of the Union Army and his troops arrived in Galveston to announce that the enslaved people in Texas were free and that “…rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."
It took approximately 2 1/2 years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation for the news to reach the enslaved people in Texas that slaves in the rebellious states had been freed and for a sufficient number of soldiers to be in this remote area to enforce the executive order.
Texans began celebrating Juneteenth in 1866 and it was proclaimed an official state holiday in 1980. Emancipation celebrations throughout the years have included picnics and barbecues, family reunions, parades, music and dancing, speeches and stories, prayer services and learning, rodeos and horseback riding, carnivals and bazaars, beauty pageants, fishing, baseball games, and races.
While Texas chose June 19th as its Emancipation Day, some localities used the date when its enslaved population received the news of liberation. Yet others preferred January 1st, the date the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863 or September 22nd, when President Lincoln first announced the Proclamation in 1862.
In Alexandria, there has been some discussion about observing Emancipation Day on April 7th, the date that the slaves were emancipated in Virginia. With a rich history of observance beginning in 1889, Alexandrians have celebrated on different days of the year and in different months. The first decade featured two eminent and renowned speakers, Frederick Douglass and John Mercer Langston. Douglass, abolitionist and orator, was the keynote speaker at the 31st anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on September 24, 1894. Langston, the first African American elected to the United States Congress from Virginia, delivered keynote speeches in 1895 and 1897.
More recently, the Alexandria Black History Museum has celebrated Juneteenth for almost 30 years. Small festivals began with a mayoral reading of the Emancipation Proclamation followed by food, vendors, performances, and children’s games and crafts. Later observances have included film screenings, children’s programming, an open house featuring doll houses of historic Alexandria, and lectures by notable speakers, such as U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black, co-sponsored by the Northern Virginia Urban League, and historian C.R. Gibbs.
Although different localities may have varying Emancipation dates with diverse activities and programs, Juneteenth has come to symbolize emancipation, recognized in almost every state and the District of Columbia, incorporating African traditions with themes of freedom, hope, achievement, education, and respect for all cultures.
Juneteenth: A Virginia State Holiday and a Federal Holiday
On Thursday June 17, 2021 President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act which established June 19th, Juneteenth, as a federal holiday. It is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. day was created in 1983. "Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments. They don't ignore those moments in the past. They embrace them. Great nations don't walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we made. And remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger," Biden said during remarks at the White House.
Juneteenth was celebrated as a state holiday in Virginia in 2020 by executive order. In October 2020, legislation was passed unanimously to officially declare it a permanent statewide holiday in Virginia. The City of Alexandria also recognized it as a paid holiday for City staff in 2020 and again this year in 2021.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam stated, “Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States,” continuing, “It’s time we elevate this, not just to celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.” State House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert commented that, “July 4th is the birthday of our nation, but Juneteenth is the day where it truly began to fulfill its promise of freedom for all. For the first time since enslaved Africans landed at Jamestown in 1619, the chains of bondage were finally cast off”.
As Hawaii heads closer to recognizing Juneteenth, South Dakota will be the only U.S. State that does not recognize Juneteenth as either a state holiday or observance. In 1980, Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday. Like Virginia, in the last year more states that already observed Juneteenth have declared it a state holiday.
The Juneteenth Flag
In 1997, activist Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, worked with other collaborators, including illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf, to create the flag design. The design was revised in 2000, and the date “June 19, 1865” was added in 2007 to commemorate Union Army Major General Gordon Granger’s announcement of freedom to the people of Texas.
The flag features a star, a burst, an arc and the colors red, white and blue. All have special meaning to the story of Juneteenth. The star represents Texas, the Lone Star State, but also represents the freedom of African Americans in all 50 states.
The burst outlining the star is inspired by a nova, or new star. It represents a new beginning for African Americans across America.
The arc across the width of flag represents a new horizon full of promise and new opportunities.
The colors red, white and blue represent the colors of the flag of the United States of America and are a reminder that those who were enslaved and their descendants were and are Americans.
Juneteenth celebrations also often feature the colors red, green and black and the Pan-African flag that was created in 1920 when Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey called for a Black liberation flag.
Celebrate Juneteenth 2022
Juneteenth Park and Cemetery Clean-Up
Thursday June 16, 10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Douglass Memorial Cemetery, 1421 Wilkes Street
Starting at Frederick Douglass Memorial Cemetery and walking to Penny Hill Cemetery.
Let’s honor Juneteenth as a community by cleaning the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Penny Hill Cemeteries on June 16. Grab the people you love and join RPCA outdoors from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to participate in this effort. The cemeteries honor those who endured the many years of slavery while celebrating the freedom they fought for. Come as you are or wear red, black and/or green to represent the Pan African Flag. RPCA will provide grabber tools and trash bags for the clean-up. See you there!
Story Time with the Black History Museum
Saturday June 18, 11 - 11:30 a.m.
Charles Beatley Jr. Central Library, 5005 Duke Street
The Alexandria Black History Museum and the Alexandria Library invite you to a collaborative event celebrating Juneteenth, featuring Lillian Patterson. All are welcome, but the event is geared toward children ages 3-6.
Juneteenth Jubilee, featuring Culture Queen
Saturday June 18, 12 - 1 p.m.
Charles Beatley Jr. Central Library, 5005 Duke Street
Join Grammy-nominated performer Culture Queen for an interactive musical storytelling show and learn the meaning of the Juneteenth holiday. All ages.
Cosponsored by the Alexandria Black History Museum and the Office of Historic Alexandria as part of Celebrate Juneteenth 2022.
Jubilee Voices, "Juneteenth: Singing the Journey"
Sunday June 19, 3 - 4 p.m.
Market Square, 301 King Street
Join Jubilee Voices and the Office of Historic Alexandria for a concert in celebration of Juneteenth, a national holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Jubilee Voices will perform a lively, interactive performance featuring traditional African American music, dance and spoken word that traces the history of African Americans from enslavement to freedom. Celebrate Juneteenth and join the journey!
Freedom House Museum Grand Opening
Monday June 20, 6 - 7:30 p.m.
Shiloh Baptist Worship Center, 1401 Jamieson Avenue
Join the City of Alexandria for the grand opening of the Freedom House Museum at 1315 Duke Street on Monday, June 20 at 6 p.m.at the Shiloh Baptist Worship Center (1401 Jamieson Avenue). As part of the City’s Juneteenth events, the grand opening marks the notable story and transition for this National Historic Landmark in Alexandria on the national stage. All are welcome.
Virginia State Delegate Delores McQuinn (70th District - Richmond), a critical leader for the Commonwealth’s African American initiatives, will provide the keynote address. Additionally, the program will feature remarks by Mayor Justin Wilson, Alexandria Black History Museum Director Audrey Davis, Former Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks, Northern Virginia Urban League Board Chair Letty Maxwell, and City Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam.
To the end the event, a powerful recitation of the earliest list of men, women, and children trafficked from Alexandria to New Orleans associated with 1315 Duke Street in 1828 will be lifted up.
Freedom House Museum
1315 Duke Street
Extended hours, Monday June 20, 1 - 5:30 p.m.
The museum will also have extended hours on June 20, open from 1 - 5:30 p.m. The museum is regularly open to the public Thursday and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays and Mondays from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 per adult, $3 per child ages 5–12, and free for City of Alexandria residents. Due to high demand and limited capacity, it is highly recommended that guests reserve tickets in advance online.
2021 Juneteenth Concert with the Washington Revels Jubilee Voices
Juneteenth Concert, 2021
The Washington Revels Jubilee Voices ensemble is committed to the preservation of African-American history and traditions–presenting songs and stories of struggle and perseverance, trials and triumphs, as expressed through a cappella music, drama and dance. Inaugurated in 2010, the group now performs regularly at heritage sites throughout the Washington DC area, singing, sharing, and learning the stories of the people in those communities. This performance was in partnership with the Office of Historic Alexandria, Alexandria Black History Museum.
Juneteenth: Celebrating with the Alexandria Black History Museum
Online Exhibit 2021
The Alexandria Black History Museum has celebrated Juneteenth for almost 30 years. The early celebrations were small festivals with a mayoral reading of the Emancipation Proclamation followed by food, vendors, performances, and children’s games and crafts. Later events featured film screenings, children’s programming, an open house featuring doll houses of historic Alexandria, and lectures by notable speakers. For the second year the 2021 celebrations were virtual so we thought we would take a trip down memory lane at some of our past celebrations together with the online exhibit Juneteenth: Celebrating with the Alexandria Black History Museum.
Juneteenth Video Statements
Juneteenth Statements, 2020
- Learn About Juneteenth with Alexandria’s Black History Museum Director, Audrey Davis, with information and video from visitALX, the official blog of VisitAlexandria.
- Historian Dr. Lauranett Lee explains the history and significance of Juneteenth, at Gov. Ralph Northam's press conference on Tuesday, June 16, 2020, where the governor announced legislation that would make Juneteenth a paid, state holiday.
Juneteenth and the Carlton Funn Collection
Celebrate Juneteenth by exploring local history with two collections from the Alexandria Black History Museum that are now available to view online: The Carlton Funn Collection, nearly 1,500 display boards created to teach the importance of diversity, and photographs from our Parker-Gray School Collection. Enjoy a Juneteenth themed preview of Funn, learn more about Mr. Funn and his exhibition, or simply browse both collections.
- Juneteenth & the Path to Freedom Through the Funn Collection (an online exhibit)
- The Importance of being "NICE": The Carlton A. Funn, Sr. Collection (an online exhibit)
- Historic Alexandria Collections Online (browse the online collections)
Emancipation in the News, in the 19th Century
Emancipation celebrations were recorded in the Alexandria Gazette numerous times. Here are transcriptions of two of these articles.
This webpage contains 1890s articles about Alexandria Emancipation Day celebrations. These articles were written through the white media lens of the period. When referring to African Americans the term colored is used. We post these articles in the interest of historical accuracy. The terminology that was used to refer to all communities of color has evolved over time. These articles are only shared now to give our audience a better understanding of the event and Alexandria’s racial climate. The City of Alexandria respects the history and diversity of all of its residents, employees and visitors.
Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser
September 23, 1895
EMANCIPATION CELEBRATION. -- The colored people of this city and neighborhood turned out in force this afternoon to celebrate the anniversary of the emancipation proclamation of President Lincoln. The military and civic organizations made a fine show. The Washington Cadet Corps, Capital City Guards, National Guards and Butler Light Infantry, of Washington, were in line, as were also the Fairfax Farmers Association (mounted), and a colored zouave company of this city. There was a float containing a number of young colored girls and boys in the procession. The float broke down while on King street, but was quickly repaired. To-night the closing exercises will be held in Shiloh Church, when J. M. Langston and others will speak.
Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser
September 18, 1893
EMANCIPATION PARADE AND ANNIVERSARY. – The colored people of this city and vicinity under the auspices of the Weekly Leader and Excelsior Club, will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the emancipation proclamation on next Friday evening, September 22d. The celebration will begin with a street parade starting from odd Fellows' Hall at 6.30 p. m. It will be composed of the Industrial Guards, Laboring Men's Union, No. 1, White Shirt Club, No. 1, Emancipation Club, benevolent societies, Portner's workingmen, Jefferson Township Club, delegations from Arlington and Fairfax, Virginia Blues, of Arlington ; delegation from Hyattsville Md. ; the Butler Infantry corps, Capt, Benj. Young, of Washington, D.C. ; Spartan Club, Ladies' Auxiliary, of B. I. Corps, White Shirt Clubs, I, 2 and 3, Pioneers, Shaw Post, True Reformers and other organizations from Washington. Prof. H. Murray's Metropolitan Brass Band will head the line. The following have been appointed by Chairman Robinson as mounted marshalls. Chief, Wm., A. Carter : aides, Geo. w. Hobday, John Grisby, R. J. Preston and Thos. Shelton. The parade will be through the principal streets. The visiting military will arrive at the local depot at 6:40 p. m. Chairman Robinson received to-day Gov. McKinney's permit for the entry into the State of the Butler Infantry. At the conclusion of the parade, speaking will take place at Odd Fellows' Hall. The exercises will be opened by a chorus of young women. The edict will be read by Charles K. M. Browne, a colored attache of the British Legation. Address by Magnus L. Robinson, editor of the Alexandria Weekly Leader. Select poem, written by lawyer T. L. Jones, of Virginia, subject, "Industrial Emancipation. Addresses by others. Among the white citizens of Virginia invited are Senator Hunton and Representative E. E. Meredith. Senator Hunton has sent a letter of regret. Representative Meredith writes: "Allow me to thank you for the kind and courteous letter just received. If possible, I will be glad to accept your kind invitation.” The indications are that this emancipation occasion will reflect great credit on its managers.
Out of the Attic
“Out of the Attic” is published each week in the Alexandria Times newspaper. These articles appear with the permission of the Alexandria Times and were authored by staff of the Office of Historic Alexandria and invited guests. Browse or search for other articles of interest in the Out of the Attic Archive.