Juneteenth is a holiday that doesn’t get the recognition or celebration it deserves. We celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation as when enslaved African Americans were freed in the United States. But the road there was a lot more complicated—emancipation took years to happen. Juneteenth is the day we celebrate the true end of slavery in the US, or at least the day the last of the slaves in the country were told that they were free, which came more than two and¬ a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. This Juneteenth, we wanted to take the time to introduce the holiday to those who may not be as familiar with it.
On September 22, 1862, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863. This was one of the most important moments in our nation’s history, but despite what we may have learned in school, this wasn’t the end of slavery. Particularly in states still in rebellion, the only freedom was in escaping to the Union, a tremendously dangerous journey. It wasn’t until the end of the Civil War that the Confederate states were forced to comply with the newly ratified Thirteenth Amendment (which was passed in January of 1865, but didn’t go into effect until December of that year). Even then, the news traveled slowly, and some states refused to even tell slaves that they were free. It wasn’t until Texas, the last holdout, finally complied that the slavery in the United States of the time came to an end (though modern-day slavery that disproportionally targets Black people still exists through our prison system and laws that allow it as punishment for crimes). On June 19th, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger issued the following order to the people of Texas:“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 freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
—General Order No. 3; Galveston Texas, June 19, 1865
Growing up outside the Black community, I was taught that the Emancipation Proclamation was the end of slavery. It wasn’t. It’s easy for many of us to think that emancipation happened quickly and easily. It didn’t. It took over two and half years after the proclamation for the enslaved people of Texas to be freed—and to this day, we are still struggling with the horrific legacy of slavery, and the treatment of the Black community is far from equal. This second—and in my opinion the true, Independence Day—should always have been a major national holiday. It is one of the most important days in our history, yet we as a nation have mostly, predictably, either forgotten or refused to celebrate it. Thankfully, that’s slowly starting to change. Today, 47 states have recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday or day of remembrance. But it has yet to become a major national holiday.
If you’d like to read more about Juneteenth, check out these links:
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Friday, June 19, 2020