Updated: June 17, 2021
“If the cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. Because the goal of America is freedom, abused and scorned tho’ we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.”– Martin Luther King Jr.
On June 19, communities all over the nation will come together to celebrate an unofficial holiday — Juneteenth (also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Jubilee Day) — to commemorate the abolition of slavery in the United States. And as we continue to face outrage and protest sparked by ongoing racial and economic injustices in our current society, we realize the words of Martin Luther King Jr. are now as important as ever.
The History of Juneteenth
Though the Emancipation Proclamation to liberate enslaved African Americans was declared by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 and went into effect on January 1st, 1863, freedom did not come fast to those in remote parts of the country. In fact, the news did not reach Texas until two-and-a-half years later on June 19, 1865, when Union Army General Gordon Granger and Union soldiers read the long-overdue federal orders aloud in Galveston.
Celebrations marking the occasion started as small, church-centered gatherings in Texas. According to Juneteenth.com, recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territories. The celebration of June 19th was coined ‘Juneteenth’ and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members.
In the early years, little interest existed outside the African American community in participation in the celebrations. In some cases, there was outwardly exhibited resistance by barring the use of public property for the festivities.
Then on January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. Edwards, who recently passed away April 29, 2020, actively sought to spread the observance of Juneteenth all across America.
He proudly stated: “Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations. That’s why we need this holiday.”
This year marks 156 years since the original Juneteenth. Since then, generations have celebrated the trials and tribulations of their ancestors and currently 47 of the 50 states recognize it as a state holiday and at this very moment, lawmakers have declared Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Celebrating Through Solidarity
In the wake of current racial turmoil that has taken place over the past year, Juneteenth has gained renewed importance and promises to be a day of hope, a day of reflection and a day to appreciate the Black experience. It is cause for celebration, as well as an opportunity to take a closer look at just how far civil liberties for our Black communities have come and how much more we can do to bridge racial divides.
Bringing attention to the importance of the Juneteenth holiday is Chanda Causer, who organized two Elfster Secret Santa Gift Exchanges last year to support Freedom Day for former slaves.
“As you may know, the Emancipation Proclamation was intended to free all slaves, but it didn’t work out that way, as news traveled slow, and slave owners were resistant to comply. We now celebrate Juneteenth jubilee as a marker when the news arrived in Galveston, TX,” explains Chanda, who currently lives in Prince Georges’ County, Maryland with her husband and three girls.
Since the death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement on May 25, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as well as several other race-related injustices, tensions ever since have been high.
“I was already becoming overwhelmed due to the quarantine and just really wanted to mail some love to friends, and also receive some love,” says Chanda. “My friends were experiencing depression and anxiety… and just uncertainty from the world.”
Supporting Black-Owned Businesses & Each Other
“[A friend] suggested that we host an Elfster Gift Exchange, but make certain that people support the Black community by buying gifts from Black-owned businesses. I loved this idea so much, so we created the Juneteenth Gift Exchange for our friends,” she says.
In addition to her Juneteenth exchange, Chanda has created another community of givers as well, called “Free-ish Since 1865.”
“The ‘Juneteenth’ community is open for everyone, friends of friends,” she explains. “The ‘Free-ish Since 1865’ is a group for only Black people to celebrate our history, continued struggles, and solidarity in this ever changing time — this is a private closed community for those who identify as Black.” In both Gift Exchanges, she encourages participants to send their secret friend gifts from a Black-owned business.
In addition to sending a gift, Chanda asked participants to include a personal reflection note — “share with a stranger (or maybe you matched with a friend) how this moment in time is forcing you to think, reflect. Share your words with the world.”
A Time for Reflection
“My hope is that each person sends a thoughtful gift from a Black-owned business, and has an opportunity to place their thoughts on paper with a personal note,” she says. “Also, I want people to think more deeply about Juneteenth and its connection to this current uprising moment. While the exchange is this Friday, I am hearing how hard it is to support small businesses (small internet profile, or not on Amazon so shipping is higher); but regardless, people are committed. Additionally, folks are developing a list of locally Black-owned businesses that they never knew of — so that’s awesome.”
Here are a few notable Black-owned businesses on Chanda’s list:
- Izzy & Liv, a self-affirming, inspirational, fun and sassy line of apparel and accessories designed by and for Black women.
- MahoganyBooks, a Washington, D.C. bookstore dedicated to meeting the literary needs of readers in search of books written for, by, or about people of the African Diaspora.
- My Pride Apparel, whose products are meant to make statements and allow you to speak without even having to say a word and to allow you to express your pride in being a black woman.
- McBride Sisters Wines, is a story of two sisters and their passion for wine, now the largest African-American-owned wine company in the United States.
- The Lip Bar, whose founder was tired of the beauty industry’s lack of diversity, lack of inclusion and excessive amounts of unnecessary chemicals.
And if you are looking for the perfect gift for friends or family, Elfster’s Juneteenth Gift Guide is full of fresh ideas.
The Future of the Juneteenth Holiday
“The future of Juneteenth looks bright as the number of cities and states creating Juneteenth committees continues to increase. Respect and appreciation for all of our differences grow out of exposure and working together.” — Juneteenth.com
“I think that Juneteenth has been growing in popularity since I was a child,” says Chanda. “I knew of it as a Texas celebration, now it has become more of a celebration of freedom for slaves, because we did not all gain freedom from the Emancipation Proclamation. For me, personally, this year Juneteenth is more significant because the uprising is highlighting the fact that we are still fighting for freedom.”
“Juneteenth is a holiday that everyone should be aware of and celebrate as it is part of our American history. Tell your loved ones clearly that when we do not honor, make amends of the original sin of slavery, we will keep experiencing breaches in our relationships that result in myriad of activism until we undo a system build on whiteness and the inferiority of all others,” she concludes.
Elfster is proud to support Chanda and all of the world’s diverse communities brought together through acts of kindness and generosity, today and every day.
Looking for an easy way to spread joy in your community? Try a Secret Santa generator that simplifies the process. Elfster makes it easy to pair people up, shop for gifts, and start a Wish List. Plus, you can access it all from an iPhone app or Android app.
Photo credits: @handel.eugene via Instagram; The Portal to Texas History; Imagine Photography
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