The History of Juneteenth
By Agalby Morel
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration honoring the end of slavery in the United States
Abraham Lincoln freed enslaved Africans with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 declaring "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free.
Congress then passed the 13th Amendment into legislation in 1865 officially abolishing slavery in the United States.
Even though all slaves in the Confederate states were freed with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it couldn’t be implemented in places still under Confederate control. In addition, when the Civil War came to a close in 1865, there was still a number of people who remained enslaved, especially those who lived in remote areas. Those who were largely isolated from Union armies continued to live life as if freedom did not exist because word of slavery’s end travelled slowly.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, TX with the news that the Civil War was over and that the enslaved people there were now free. Over 250,00 enslaved Africans in Texas were informed of their freedom on this day, and they represented the last Africans in the country to be told of their emancipation, which makes Juneteenth even more significant.
Juneteenth as a Holiday
Even though, the newly freed Africans in Texas didn’t receive their full benefits of freedom, they turned this day into a celebration. Eventually, Texas became the first state to announce Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980. Juneteenth represents how freedom and justice in the US has always been delayed for Black people. Even after the war, injustice prevailed in the form of lynching, imprisonment, Jim Crow, segregation. And what followed was the disproportionate impact of systemic racism through the lens of mass incarceration, redlining and discriminatory housing policies, and police brutality. Juneteenth is a day about remembering the past and a celebration of freedom and the fight for its fulfillment.
Juneteenth is a day that recognizes Black power, suffering, and resilience through festivities that highlight Black joy, creativity, and community.
Ways to Celebrate and Commemorate Juneteenth
- Support Black-owned businesses
- Educate yourself on the significance of Juneteenth
- Acknowledge and spread the word
- Donate to organizations that support Black communities
- Use your voice to spread love
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