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The freedom of African Americans from slavery in the U.S. in 1865 is celebrated on the holiday Juneteenth on June 19. Juneteenth is made up of the words ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth,’ and it is on this day that Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas more than 155 years ago to inform slaves that slavery had been abolished.
When is Juneteenth 2021?
Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the U.S. and commemorates African-American freedom, is observed on June 19.
History of Juneteenth
According to the official website of the historical event, Juneteenth is ‘the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.’ Other than marking a pivotal date of significance in American history, Juneteenth also serves as an opportunity for African Americans to cherish their culture and heritage.
More than 155 years old, Juneteenth celebrates the liberation of African Americans from slavery in the U.S. The reason for it being celebrated on June 19 is because, on this day in 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army landed in Texas, he brought the news that the Civil War had ended and all slaves were free.
The proclamation declaring the abolishment of slavery was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, in the nation’s third year of an ongoing civil war. Known as the Emancipation Proclamation, it declared that ‘all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State […] shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.’ Granger’s arrival at Texas was to enforce this decree, which had originally gone into effect two years earlier.
The news had come as a shock to more than 250,000 slaves in Texas who were unaware of it.
On June 19, in the city of Galveston, Granger publicly read General Order No. 3, which stated: ‘The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.’
As to why the news of the abolition of slavery reached Texas so late, there are varying accounts. One story states that the messenger bearing the news was assassinated on his journey. Some historians believe that the report on the Emancipation Proclamation was withheld by slave owners in Texas on purpose so that they can go about their business as usual and keep the labor force working. Historians also note that, until 1865, Texas remained a Confederate State, so Lincoln’s proclamation could not have been enforced until Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union Army and they took over.
Either way, Granger’s arrival with the grand news stirred the air with jubilance and massive celebrations across the state. A former slave named Felix Haywood gave his recount of the first celebration in 1865 in the book “Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas” — ‘We was all walkin’ on golden clouds […] Everybody went wild […] We was free. Just like that, we was free.’
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.
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.
This act gave the federal government the power to enforce desegregation while prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin.
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.
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."
Why is Juneteenth called Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is a fusion of the words ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth.’ The emancipation of African Americans from slavery in the U.S. officially happened on June 19.
Is Juneteenth a national holiday?
The only three states yet to legally recognize Juneteenth as either a state or ceremonial holiday are Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
What is Juneteenth and why is it important?
Juneteenth is an extremely important holiday in history, commemorating the day when the enslaved people of Texas learned that slavery had been abolished and that they are free.
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.