The Meaning behind Juneteenth in Omaha

 The Meaning behind Juneteenth in Omaha

By: R. Nelson, A student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, as part of Heather Nelson’s Service Learning Academy class. 

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth celebrates the ending of slavery in the United States. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on June 1, 1863. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on June 1st, Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19th because it was on that very day Texas, the last state agreed to end slavery. 

History of Slavery in Nebraska

Nebraska became a territory in 1854, and during that year, the “Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the Nebraska Territorial Legislature to decide whether slavery should be legal in the Territory.” The Nebraskan Legislature decided to legalize slavery until 1962 when they then reconsidered and placed a ban on slavery, one year before the President signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Nebraska was admitted as a state to the Union in 1867 after they discarded a clause set in the State Constitution that limited suffrage to only “free white males.” Then in 1875, Nebraska included a formal ban on their State Constitution, which banned “slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime.” Here is the direct passage from the Nebraska State Constitution:

“There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this state, otherwise than for punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”

Nebraska State Constitution, Article, Section 2 (1875)

How did Omaha handle the ban on Slavery?

After 28 years after signing the Emancipation Proclamation, in 1891, Omaha had its first celebration for the freedom of the slaves. The Omaha World-Herald spread in its newspapers the announcement and even the coverage of the wonderful event. However, “on October 18, 1891, an African American worker names George Smith was hung in downtown Omaha” by a mob due to accusations made of him committing a crime for which there was no proof. 

Because of this unfortunate tragedy, there were no celebrations the following year; however, as the years passed, the celebrations steadily continued and progressed. Juneteenth was celebrated from 1893 to 2015, with the occasional disturbance of the tradition of celebration, which resulted in a nonconsecutive timeline. 

How does Omaha celebrate Juneteenth?

Currently, Omaha hosts many activities and celebrations for Juneteenth from multiple organizations and groups; one of these operations associated with celebrating Juneteenth is Freedomtainment. Founded by Calvin Williams and Tim Andersen. Freedomtainment is a non-profit organization with a mission to “educate, empower, and entertain the Omaha community about North Omaha Culture while bringing awareness to local social and business recourses.” Freedomtainment hosts the Freedom Festival in Omaha for the celebration of Juneteenth. For this festival, because Freedomtainment is a non-profit organization, their celebrations are free of charge, allowing people from all demographics to join and experience an event based on the historical ending of slavery. Freedomtainment also relies on volunteer work to help spread its mission, and people of all sorts can volunteer to get behind their mission. By doing so, they are also gaining community service and knowledge about the holiday and the community around them. Now with Juneteenth officially signed as a federal holiday, there will be more fantastic festivities set, creating more opportunities for volunteer work as well.  

See Adam Fletcher’s article “History of Emancipation Day and Juneteenth in Omaha”

See Freedom’s explanation “Who are We