Thursday, June 15, 6:30 p.m.
Davenport Public Library Fairmount Street Branch, 3000 North Fairmount Street, Davenport IA
June 19 marks the day in 1865 in which enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were told by Union troops that they were free, and on June 15, the history and celebration of the subsequent holiday will be explored in Juneteenth: A Day of Independence, a live presentation taking place at the Davenport Public Library's Fairmount Street Branch.
Originating in Galveston, Juneteenth is now celebrated annually on June 19 throughout the United States, and every year receives increased official recognition. It is commemorated on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865 announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger, which proclaimed freedom from slavery in Texas. President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation had officially outlawed slavery in Texas and the other states in rebellion against the Union almost two-and-a-half years earlier, and enforcement of the Proclamation generally relied on the advance of Union troops. Being the most remote of the slave states, Texas had a low presence of Union troops as the Civil War ended, and consequently, enforcement there had been slow and inconsistent before Granger's announcement. Although Juneteenth generally celebrates the end of slavery in the United States, it was still legal and practiced in the Union border states of Delaware and Kentucky until December of 1865, when ratification of the Constitution's 13th Amendment abolished chattel slavery nationwide.
Celebrations date to 1866, at first involving church-centered community gatherings in Texas. These spread across the South and became more commercialized in the 1920s and 1930s, often centering on a food festival. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Juneteenth was eclipsed by the struggle for post-war civil rights, but grew in awareness again in the 1970s with its focus on African-American freedom and the arts. By the beginning of the 21st century, the holiday was celebrated in most major cities across the United States, and activists continue to campaign for the United States Congress to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday. But on June 15, 2021, the Senate did unanimously pass the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday; it subsequently passed through the House of Representatives by a 415-14 vote on June 16, 2021.
Modern observance is primarily in local celebrations, with traditions including public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and reading of works by noted African-American writers such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Juneteenth celebrations, meanwhile, frequently boast street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, and Miss Juneteenth contests, the latter explored in a 2020 movie fittingly titled Miss Juneteenth.
Juneteenth: A Day of Independence will be presented at the Davenport Public Library's Fairmount Street Branch on June 15, participation in the 6:30 p.m. program is free, and more information is available by calling (563)326-7832 and visiting DavenportLibrary.com.