More holidays appear on U.S. calendars every year than Americans can keep up with. Not only do Americans skip celebrating certain holidays, they also may not understand what certain holidays commemorate in the first place. Take Kwanzaa, for instance. Much of the public has at least heard of the holiday but would be hard pressed to explain its purpose. Other holidays of interest to African Americans, such as Loving Day and Juneteenth, simply aren’t on the radar of the general public. With this overview, find out how these holidays began as well as the history of more familiar holidays of interest to black Americans.
When did slavery end in the United States? The answer to that question isn’t as clear-cut as it seems. While most slaves received their freedom after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in Texas had to wait more than two-and-a-half years later to receive their freedom. That’s when the Union Army arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, and ordered that slavery in the Lone Star State end. Ever since, African Americans have celebrated that date as Juneteenth Independence Day. Juneteenth is an official state holiday in Texas. It’s also recognized by 40 states and the District of Columbia. Juneteenth advocates have worked for years worked for the federal government to institute a national day of recognition.
Today interracial marriage in the U.S. between blacks and whites are growing at a record-breaking pace. But for years, various states barred such unions from taking place between African Americans and Caucasians. A Virginia couple named Richard and Mildred Loving challenged the anti-miscegenation laws on the books in their home state. After being arrested and told they couldn’t live in Virginia because of their interracial union—Mildred was black and Native American, Richard was white—the Lovings decided to take legal action. Their case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided on June 12, 1967, to strike down anti-miscegenation laws in the country. Today, blacks, whites and others celebrate June 12 as Loving Day throughout the nation.
Many Americans have at least heard of Kwanzaa. They may have seen Kwanzaa celebrations featured on the nightly news or seen Kwanzaa greeting cards in the holiday sections of stores. Still, they may not realize what this seven-day long holiday commemorates. So, what is Kwanzaa? It marks a time for African Americans to reflect on their heritage, their community and their connection to Africa. Arguably, the biggest misconception about Kwanzaa is that only African Americans may participate in the event. But according to the official Kwanzaa website, individuals of all racial backgrounds may take part.
Black History Month is a cultural observance with which virtually all Americans are familiar. Yet, many Americans don’t seem to understand the point of the month. In fact, some whites have made the claim that Black History Month is somehow discriminatory because it sets aside a time to remember the achievements of African Americans. But historian Carter G. Woodson launched the holiday, formerly known as Negro History Week, because the contributions that African Americans made to U.S. culture and society were overlooked in history books in the early 20th century. Thus, Negro History Week marked a time for the nation to reflect on what blacks had achieved in the country in the wake of virulent racism.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is so revered today that it’s difficult to imagine a time when U.S. lawmakers would have opposed creating a holiday in honor of the slain civil rights hero. But in the 1970s and early 80s, King’s supporters waged an uphill battle to make a federal King holiday a reality. Finally in 1983, legislation for a national King holiday passed. Learn more about the individuals who fought for the King holiday and the politicians who opposed their efforts.