So, What Actually is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, a combination of “June” and “nineteenth,” is the oldest national celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. June 19, 1865, marks the day that Union soldiers were led by Major General Gordan Granger to Gavelston, Texas. Major General Granger and his troops announced the long-awaited news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were free.
An Overview of Juneteenth History
Major General Gordan Granger’s arrival to Texas was two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation, which became official on January 1, 1863. The small number of Union troops available was not enough to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation so, unfortunately, the executive order had little effect on the enslaved Texans at the time. Masters had the choice to announce the news directly or wait for a government agent to do it which would give masters time to use enslaved people to finish out the harvest season. In order to escape the reach of the Union Army, masters from places like Mississippi and Louisiana moved themselves and their enslaved people to Texas. This mass movement resulted in 250,000 enslaved people being in Texas at the time of Granger’s order.
Major General Gordan Granger’s order read as follows: “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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
The transition from enslaved to free was not an immediate one. Even after the news of freedom reached enslaved people, there was still the risk of them losing their lives because of stubborn Confederates or them being forced to continue working for their masters. In spite of all the tragedies that African American people faced at the time, they introduced Juneteenth as a holiday to uplift their communities through the celebration of newfound freedom. In the beginning stages of Juneteenth recognition, many people in the African American community celebrated by reading the Emancipation Proclamation, cooking traditional barbeque, and involving games like baseball and stock car races.
Why is it So Important?
Despite the years of whitewashing done to erase African Americans’ history, Juneteenth has continued being a celebrated holiday across the nation with the help of the 1968 Poor People’s March, which reintroduced the holiday. The holiday is important to many, even more than July 4th, because July 4th celebrates the independence of American colonies from British monarch while slavery was still a promenient part of the American fabric. The Juneteenth holiday is inclusive because it commemorates the day when enslaved people were told that they were freed rather than it being the exact day they were freed, since every person was granted freedom on varying days.
Is Juneteenth a Federal Holiday?
Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday in 1979 and since then 41 other states and the District of Columbia recognize June 19 as well. June 19 is also already a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia, and Washington. As of June 18, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. The law was signed into effect immediately and made June 19 the first federal holiday celebrating Juneteenth.
Juneteenth Quotes to Inspire You This Year
“Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible–and there is still so much work to do.” – Barack Obama
“We all require and want respect, man or woman, Black or white. It’s our basic human right.” – Aretha Franklin
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” – Malcolm X
“Our federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most important milestones. I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United States.” – Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
“We have a responsibility to teach every generation of Black and white Americans the pride of a people who have survived, endured and succeeded in these United States of America despite slavery.” – Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich
Written by Chapelle J