Juneteenth is an annual 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.
On June 19, 1865, troops led by General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, to proclaim the end of the civil war and slavery. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation became 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 slave owners 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.
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 former slaves returned to Galveston, Texas, yearly on June 19th to recognize “Freedom Day.”
The celebration reached new heights in 1872 when several former slaves wanted their own piece of land to host and commemorate Juneteenth annual celebrations. Reverend Yates, Reverend Elias, Richard Brock, and Richard Allen all raised funds to purchase ten acres of parkland in Houston, Texas, known today as the Emancipation Park Conservancy.
Juneteenth continued to be celebrated and honored in Texas for decades. In 1980, Juneteenth became an official Texas recognized holiday because of a Black State Legislator named Al Edwards; numerous states have celebrated it over the years.
In the summer of 2020, Texan Senator John Cornyn and Representative Sheila Jackson proposed a bill to make it a federal holiday. On June 15, 2021, the Senate unanimously passed the bill to recognize Juneteenth as an official national holiday.
Today President Joe Biden signed the bill as a law which immediately goes into effect. We are celebrating the first Juneteenth National Independence Day holiday on Friday June 18th, because it is the closest weekday to the actual day.
Juneteenth marks a day of significance in American history, which shows us that racial and freedom equality will always be a hard-fought battle for Black Americans. 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!