Please join us this Sunday, June 19, in celebrating Juneteenth. A monumental date in American history, Juneteenth honors the end of slavery in the United States. While considered the longest-running African American holiday, it also officially became the nation’s youngest federal holiday when signed into law in June of 2021.
The holiday commemorates the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 to free enslaved African Americans in secessionist states. However, enslaved individuals in Galveston, Texas would not learn of their freedom until more than two years later.
While the Emancipation Proclamation did guarantee freedom to enslaved people in secessionist states, not all those enslaved were freed at that time. In Texas, slavery had continued as the state experienced no large-scale fighting or significant presence of Union troops. In Union states which did not secede during the Civil War, slavery was not abolished until the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865, which freed all enslaved people in the country.
June 19th, which became known as Juneteenth, marks the day in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed. While Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered two months earlier in Virginia, slavery had remained relatively unaffected in Texas until that time. That’s when Major General Gordon Granger informed the community of Galveston of Lincoln’s proclamation, demanding locals comply.
One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas General Order Number 3, which began:
“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
Texas was the last Confederate state where the proclamation was announced and the first to recognize the date of June 19th statewide. The inaugural Juneteenth to commemorate the official day enslaved people in Galveston were freed began in 1866.
In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday, with several others following suit in subsequent years. In June 2021, Congress passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday, with President Biden signing it into law on June 17, 2021.
Why Should We Celebrate?
We celebrate Juneteenth because of what this holiday reveals to us about the inherent dignity and humanity of all people. And while such celebrations can spark uncomfortable feelings, it is important that they occur and we reflect on their meaning and importance.
This is more than a time to commemorate liberation from the institution of slavery, but also a time to highlight the resilience, spirit, and culture of the African American community. It is a tribute that remains extremely relevant in this day and age, serving as a celebration of the progress made by those who continue fighting for the rights and freedoms of all people. It is a reminder of where we were, how far we’ve come, and the work necessary to ensure a brighter, more equitable world for everyone.