Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States and has actually been an African American tradition since the late 19th century. Economic and cultural forces caused a decline in Juneteenth celebrations beginning in the early 20th century. The Depression forced many blacks off of farms and into the cities to find work. In these urban environments, employers were less eager to grant leaves to celebrate this date.
July 4th was the already established Independence holiday, and a rise in patriotism among black Americans steered more toward this celebration. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s yielded both positive and negative results for the Juneteenth celebrations. While it pulled many of the African American youth away and into the struggle for racial equality, many linked these struggles to the historical struggles of their ancestors.
Again in 1968, Juneteenth received another strong resurgence through Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C. Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor. Many of these attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas previously absent of such activity.
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s Juneteenth has continued to enjoy a growing and healthy interest from communities and organizations throughout the country as African Americans have a growing interest to see that the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten. Many see roots tying back to Texas soil from which all remaining American slaves were finally granted their freedom.
Most recently in 1994, the era of the “Modern Juneteenth Movement” began when a group of Juneteenth leaders from across the country gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana, at Christian Unity Baptist Church, Rev. Dwight Webster, Pastor, to work for greater national recognition of Juneteenth. The historic meeting was convened by Rev. John Mosley, Director of the New Orleans Juneteenth Freedom Celebration.
Several national Juneteenth organizations were ignited from this historic gathering beginning with the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage (NAJL), followed by the National Juneteenth Celebration Association (NJCA), the National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council (NJCLC) and the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF). Shortly prior to this gathering, Juneteenth America, Inc., (JAI) was founded by John Thompson, who organized the first National Juneteenth Convention & Expo, and the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) founded by Ben Haith, the creator of the National Juneteenth Flag.
In 1997, through the leadership of Lula Briggs Galloway, President of the NAJL and Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D., Chairman of the NAJL, the U.S. congress officially passed historic legislation recognizing Juneteenth as “Juneteenth Independence Day” in America.
Rev. Dr. Myers returned to Washington, DC in the year 2000, as Founder & Chairman of the NJOF, to establish the annual WASHINGTON JUNETEENTH National Holiday Observance and to began the campaign to establish Juneteenth Independence Day as a National Day of Observance and an official state holiday or state holiday observance in all 50 states and U.S. territories.
As of 2017, 45 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to officially recognize Juneteenth. The annual Congressional Juneteenth Reception, hosted by members of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, was also established as a part of the WASHINGTON JUNETEENTH National Holiday Observance.
The Rev. Dr. Myers, as Founder & Chairman of the NJCLC, also established the annual National Day of Reconciliation and Healing from the Legacy of Enslavement on the “18th of June” (www.NationalDayofReconciliation.com) and the National Juneteenth Black Holocaust “Maafa” Memorial Service, which later became the National Juneteenth Maafa Memorial Wreath Laying Ceremony, as a part of the WASHINGTON JUNETEENTH National Holiday Observance.
On the “19th of June,” Juneteenth, 2000, Rev. Dr. Myers stood with Congressman Tony Hall (D-OH) as historic Apology For Slavery legislation was announced at the U.S. Capitol during the 1st National Day of Reconciliation & Healing From the Legacy of Enslavement.
Rev. Dr. Myers also established the World Day of Reconciliation and Healing from the Legacy of Enslavement on the “20th of August” (www.WorldDayofReconciliation.com), in Hampton, VA, in 2010.
As the National Juneteenth Jazz Artist, Rev. Dr. Myers also established “June Is Black Music Month!” – CELEBRATING JUNETEENTH JAZZ – “Preserving Our African American Jazz Legacy!” and “June Is Juneteenth African American Jazz Legacy Month!”, with a series of Junetenth Jazz Heritage & Arts Festivals, concerts, jam sessions and lectures throughout the country.
The Rev. Dr. Myers is also the leader of the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign, which is working to pass legislation in the U.S. Congress to make Juneteenth Independence Day a National Day of Observance.