Juneteenth, a combination of “June” and “nineteenth,” has been a day of celebration for more than 150 years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The University of Texas at Arlington hosted online events to celebrate its significance.
The day commemorates June 19, 1865, when news of the federal order ending slavery in the United States reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas—more than two months after the end of the Civil War and more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in January 1863.
Pamela Safisha Hill, adjunct professor of social work and faculty affiliate with the Center for African American Studies, led a discussion on UTA’s School of Social Work Facebook page.
“Juneteenth is the official Independence Day for black people,” Hill said. “It started out as small community gatherings, and as people migrated from Texas to other parts of the world, they took the celebration with them. This year is historic, though, because everyone on the planet who watches the news has heard the word Juneteenth. This year will mark the year that the masses of black folk will celebrate Juneteenth.”
The Facebook discussion encompassed both distant and recent history, beginning with the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation and continuing to current events, including the Black Lives Matter movement and issues in higher education.
In a separate commemoration, the Office of Multicultural Affairs held an online trivia and paint night. The virtual event also explained the significance of Juneteenth and celebrated by painting the Juneteenth flag and playing trivia.
“While as a nation we have come so far since June 19, 1865, we have so much farther to go,” said Melanie Johnson, Multicultural Affairs director. “As a community we are committed to become educated and action-oriented to create inclusive and equitable change.”
The original Juneteenth flag, a unique symbol of American freedom and black history, was created in 1997 by the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation founder, Ben Haith. It uses the colors of red, white and blue—present in the flags for both the United States and Texas—to symbolize that enslaved Africans were in fact Americans. The flag includes an exaggerated star of Texas with a zig zag—“a burst of freedom,” Johnson explained.
Exclusive historical artifacts and photographs about Juneteenth and Texas history are available through the UTA Libraries and its Special Collections. One example is an engraving from the Dec. 16, 1865 edition of the popular New York illustrated newspaper Harper’s Weekly. It depicts Elizabeth Street in Brownsville, Texas, and was based upon a photograph taken just after the end of the Civil War.
“The image is a reminder that Texans of all races today should embrace Juneteenth not only as a time to celebrate the end of slavery in Texas, but also as a time to reflect upon the long and continuing struggle for racial harmony in America,” said Ben Huseman, cartographic archivist for the UT Arlington Libraries.