Juneteenth is an African American observance that marks the announcement that Slaves in the south were free following the defeat of the Confederates by the Union at the end of the Civil War in 1865.
The word Juneteenth is a combination of the words June and Nineteenth. It is the day that the proclamation of freedom was read to Slaves in Galveston, Texas in 1865. This was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed into law, but Slaves were never told that they were free until then. Hence the date is also called Emancipation Day.
In the Canadian experience, the date differs from the British end of Slavery in 1834, but its relevance comes out of a shared experience of people of colour across North America. Lloydminster resident and Humanitarian Tigra-Lee Campbell brings out this connection.
“Our Canadian Emancipation Day is different from the United States. However, emancipation meant that the Slaves were freed. They were given rights and they were said to be treated as equal, which we know to this day, we are still struggling with that. We are still struggling with equality and equity [and] racism in all forms.”
While Juneteenth is American, there are other places in the world including Canada that have a much longer association with the concept of abolishing Slavery.
There are many jurisdictions where Emancipation Day has been declared as a public holiday. The first independent country in the world to give that designation to August 1, was Trinidad and Tobago in 1985.
In Ontario, the first Monday in August, which is the Civic Holiday across Canada is known as Simcoe Day. It acknowledges the first Lieutenant Governor of Ontario (then Upper Canada), John Graves Simcoe who passed legislation against slavery in 1793. This law would remain in force until 1833 when the Emancipation Act was signed into law in the British Empire.
In March this year, Canada voted to declare Aug 1, as Emancipation Day commemorating the proclamation in the British Empire in 1834. The United States on Thursday signed into law Juneteenth as a Federal Holiday.
Lloydminster’s Campbell will be speaking in Calgary on June 19 to Inclusive Canada as they hold a Juneteenth observance. She says she is conflicted as she balances the shortcomings with what has been gained especially in recent times.
“I hope that we are a bit closer today that we were then. I think that we are. I think this part of 2021 and 2020 has definitely been very iconic. I’m hoping that we have broken a lot of barriers and covered a lot of ground with our activism.”