Juneteenth marks a day of great significance in United States history. While there is so much work left to be done on equality and diversity, Juneteenth is a day of great reflection. But what exactly is Juneteenth and why does it represent a landmark in our nations history?
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth (June 19th) is an annual day of celebration for the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Major Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with federal troops to announce the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery.
But What About The Emancipation Proclamation Signed on January 1, 1863?
While many of us were taught in history class that the Emancipation Proclamation officially ended slavery, the reality was much more complicated. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 but it took a full 2 years before slaves in Texas were actually granted their freedom. All slaves weren’t instantly granted freedom upon signing of the proclamation for many reasons. It really only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave holding border states or rebel areas that were already under Union control. The ending of slavery was also met with deep resistance from local leaders. As Union troops began retaking territory, they emancipated enslaved people living there along the way. In June 1865, the troops reached Galveston.
It’s important to note, the orders issued on Juneteenth applied only to Texas. Slavery didn’t end in states like Kentucky and Delaware, which hadn’t seceded and therefore weren’t covered by Lincoln’s proclamation, until December 18, 1865, when the 13th Amendment was adopted.
What took Texas 2 years to catch on?
Texas lacked a significant presence of Union troops and therefore wasn’t closely monitored. Local leaders remained strongly opposed to ending slavery and it’s believed they intentionally kept the news of the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the civll war a secret until the Union troops showed up. It took General Granger’s arrival to force the abolishment of slavery in Texas. As Juneteenth reminds us, “nobody is free until everybody is free”.
How To Celebrate?
Juneteenth is a day for people of all races, nationalities, and religions to join together and truthfully acknowledge a period of United States history that shaped and continues to influence our society. Celebrations for the holiday vary but most include a mix of guest speakers to share stories, religious services, parades, picnics, and family gatherings. An important part of this day is taking some time to understand and reflect on the past and how to positively impact the future of the country.
While the history of slavery and oppression in the United States is complicated and extremely devastating, Juneteenth represents a day of hope. It was a big step forward in righting the wrongs of our past. This country still has so much work to do but days like Juneteenth provide an opportunity for us to unite and address the harsh reality of discrimination in this country and how it still persists today.