Juneteenth, often referred to as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a momentous holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. June 19th was the day the last population of enslaved Africans in the United States were given freedom. 

Juneteenth Early History

On June 19th in 1865, troops led by General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, to proclaim the end of the Civil War and slavery. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation becoming law in 1863, ending slavery was not enforced. The Executive Order had little impact on the state of Texas. It took an additional two and a half years for almost 300,000 African descendants to learn that the United States government had secured their freedom. 

Why did it take so long for slavery to end in Texas?

There are three versions of the reason for hundreds of thousands of African Americans’ illegal enslavement.

First Version: A Union messenger was killed while en route to Texas before giving the news about the end of slavery. 

Second Version: Plantation owners deliberately withheld the freedom news from the enslaved for free labor, and the North was not enforcing the law.

Third Version: The last possibility is the most insidious version. Federal Union troops allowed the enslavers to “reap what they sowed.” In other words, they let them have one more harvest before enforcing President Lincoln’s orders. There is no way to know which or any of the above versions are true.

Early Juneteenth Celebration

According to Juneteenth.com, the celebration brought fellowship and prayers, community support and encouragement, but most of all, the reconnection of family, friends, and loved ones. Many descendants of slavery and formerly enslaved returned to Galveston, Texas, yearly on June 19th to recognize “Freedom Day.”

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The celebration reached new heights in 1872 when several formerly enslaved wanted their own land to host and commemorate Juneteenth annual celebrations. Reverend Yates, Reverend Elias, Richard Brock, and Richard Allen raised funds to purchase ten acres of parkland in Houston, Texas, known today as the Emancipation Park Conservancy.

These early celebrations were not only a way to honor their newfound freedom but also  to educate and uplift the community.

The Struggle for Recognition

Despite its historical significance, Juneteenth was not widely recognized outside of African American communities for many years. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s brought renewed attention to Juneteenth, with activists advocating for its recognition as a national holiday.

Texas was the first state to officially declare Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980 because of the efforts of a Black State Legislator named Al Edwards. This was a significant milestone, but it took decades for the movement to gain national traction.

Over time, Juneteenth spread to other states and represents an important cultural and historical event, symbolizing African American resilience and the ongoing struggle for equality.

Juneteenth Becomes a National Holiday

In the summer of 2020, Texan Senator John Cornyn and Representative Sheila Jackson proposed a bill to make it a federal holiday. .

The efforts to make Juneteenth a national holiday culminated in June 2021. Amidst a renewed national  conversation about racial justice and equality. Congress passed a bill establishing Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday. President Joe Biden on June 17th 2021, signed the bill to make it a legal public holiday.

The Significance of Juneteenth Today

Today, Juneteenth is celebrated across the United States with various events, including educational programs, cultural festivals, and community gatherings. It serves as a time to reflect on the progress toward racial equality and the work that still needs to be done.

In recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday, the United States honors the enduring struggle for freedom and acknowledges the importance of remembering and learning from our past. It highlights the resilience and contributions of African Americans to our nation’s history and calls us to keep fighting for justice and equality for all.

Juneteenth is a powerful reminder of Black Americans’ ongoing struggle for racial equality. From the first Juneteenth to the present day, we celebrate African American freedom, spirit, and accomplishments while giving reverence and honoring the memory of those before us. Happy Juneteenth!

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