History of Juneteenth
On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln declared that “all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State… shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” This sounds good, but contrary to popular belief, it did not immediately free a single slave as the country was in the midst of a civil war.
This was most evident in the state of Texas which was almost entirely under Confederate control. On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Union General Gordon Granger and two thousand troops marched into Galveston, Texas to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. On June 19, Granger read General Order #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. 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.
This was a cause for celebration as former slaves rejoiced in the streets about their new found freedom. That joyous day has since become known as Juneteenth, an observance of the freeing of the last enslaved people in the United States. Annual events began the next year with many former slaves making the trip back to Galveston for the ceremonies.
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is now observed throughout the US and across the world and is recognized as a state holiday in 41 states including Washington. It is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, music, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.