Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the U.S., commemorates African American freedom — while emphasizing education and achievement.
Texas became the final state to comply with the abolition of slavery in 1865 — more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. General Gordon Granger arrived in the city of Galveston to make the announcement on June 19. Attempts to explain this two-and-a-half-year delay have varied.
Here is the notice that Granger delivered to the people of Texas:
“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 free laborer.”
(Pictured above: The Juneteenth Memorial Monument at the George Washington Carver Museum in Austin, Texas.)
Juneteenth - History
- June 14, 2019
Call for a national holiday
Boston Globe columnist Renée Graham wrote that Juneteenth deserves an elevated status — noting that many African Americans regard the nation's July 4 holiday with deep ambivalence. Graham also mentioned that Thomas Jefferson, who wrote "All men are created equal," owned hundreds of enslaved people."
She went on to say: "As a day marking American independence, July 4 is incomplete. Only with the freeing of those enslaved thousands in Texas could this nation try to claim Jefferson’s lofty words as its own."
Texas declares Juneteenth a state holiday
While Texas was the first state to observe Juneteenth as a state holiday, many others have since followed suit. Only five states do not recognize the day of celebration — Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota and North Dakota.
- July 2, 1964
President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act
This act gave the federal government the power to enforce desegregation while prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin.
- August 28, 1963
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech
Dr. King spoke in front of roughly 200,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial. Now, a half century later, his speech ranks among the all-time most inspirational in American history.
- June 19, 1865
Texas slaves finally gain their freedom
Even though they were officially made aware of the Emancipation Proclamation on this day, many slaves stayed with their masters as paid hands. Of those who chose to leave their former owners, some were tracked down and killed. The proclamation did not mean immediate freedom.
How to Observe Juneteenth
Fly the Juneteenth Flag
Echoing the red, white and blue of the U.S. flag, the Juneteenth flag signifies that slaves and their descendants are true Americans. A star in the middle represents Texas, with a larger outer star representing a new freedom and a new people.
Attend a Juneteenth Celebration
Some citizens in the southern states celebrate with readings and oral histories of their ancestors, which is an honorable way to remember a somber period in American history. Celebrations also include cookouts, rodeos, concerts and parades.
Watch a movie about slavery
Recent titles include 12 Years a Slave, Glory, Amistad and Django Unchained.
5 Courageous Americans Who Fought For Equality
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Perhaps the most widely-recognizable name associated with the civil rights movement, Dr. King gave us the famous "I have a Dream" speech in August 1963. His 1968 murder proved that the movement still had a lot of work to do.
With a simple refusal to surrender her seat on a public bus, Parks made a bold statement for African Americans in the South. Her December 1955 arrest inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Loving and her husband, Richard were jailed for unlawful cohabitation in Virginia where interracial marriage was illegal in 1958. Their case reached the Supreme Court in 1967, which ruled unanimously in their favor.
An escaped slave, Douglass became an advocate for the abolition of slavery as well as women's rights.
Enslaved African American Dred Scott sued for his family's freedom in 1857. The Supreme Court ruled against him — finding that no person of African ancestry could claim U.S. citizenship.
Why Juneteenth is Important
We need to learn from past mistakes
Acknowledging our past helps us to understand what all of us must do as a society to improve.
Most of us can't imagine a world like this. When Texas finally "freed" their slaves in 1865, it came 30 months after Lincoln's proclamation. Still, even today, America struggles with race relations.
Texas was the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday in 1980. Today it's a "partial staffing" holiday in Texas; government offices do not close but agencies may operate with reduced staff.