Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom
What is America’s oldest black holiday about?
By: Jeff Charles | June 19, 2021 | 466 Words
Juneteenth, which is a mixture of June and nineteenth, commemorates the day the last American slaves were freed after the Civil War. It is the longest-running black holiday in America, which has also been called “Freedom Day” and “Emancipation Day” over the years. Though it has been celebrated by many nationwide for a very long time, Juneteenth hasn’t been as well-known as most other holidays. That has changed, however, in recent years, leading Congress and President Biden to establish Juneteenth – or, as the legislation names it, National Independence Day – as a federal holiday.
The History of the Holiday
The Emancipation Proclamation, signed January 1, 1863, mandated that all slaves in Confederate states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Contrary to popular belief, though, this didn’t immediately free every slave. It only applied to Confederate states – not those under Union control – and many slave owners refused to tell their slaves about their freedom.
For a while, Texas became the last haven for slavery. Eventually, however, General Gordon Granger arrived. In 1865, Granger traveled to Galveston and delivered General Order No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
There were about 250,000 slaves in Texas at the time, and even Granger’s declaration did not finally free them all. Many slave owners didn’t pass the news on to their slaves until after the harvest was over. Eventually, however, the rest learned of their newfound freedom. In December of 1865, the 13th Amendment was ratified, officially making the practice of chattel slavery unconstitutional.
That following year, freed slaves in Texas held the first of what would become an annual celebration of “Jubilee Day” on June 19. These celebrations included a variety of different customs and traditions. Music, prayer service, social gatherings, and other activities became integral parts of Juneteenth.
As black Americans migrated from Texas to other states, the holiday began to be celebrated across the country. Many African Americans would celebrate Juneteenth by making a yearly pilgrimage back to Galveston, where the proclamation was originally delivered by General Granger.
Today, Emancipation Day is celebrated in much the same way as it was in the past. Families commemorate the holiday in their backyards. Some cities hold grand events like parades and other types of festivities.
Juneteenth is a celebration of America finally addressing one of the darkest parts of her history. The abolition of slavery was a significant step toward righting an abhorrent wrong. Those celebrating the holiday are acknowledging that this was a point in history in which Americans decided to move closer towards living up to the ideals upon which the nation was founded. For this reason, Emancipation Day will continue to be commemorated by generations to come.