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Juneteenth: Honoring the Emancipation of America’s Last Slaves

Why do so many Americans celebrate Juneteenth?

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Juneteenth, which has been celebrated nationwide for many years, isn’t quite as well-known as most other holidays. However, it recently gained more popularity over the past few years, and more Americans were educated on why it exists.

The House and Senate recently passed legislation to make Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday, which President Joe Biden then signed. So now, June 19th is National Independence Day. But what is this holiday, and what makes it such an essential part of American history?

What Is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, which is a mix of “June” and “nineteenth,” commemorates the day the last of the slaves found out they had been freed after the Civil War. The announcement came two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth, which is also referred to as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day,” is the longest-running black American holiday.

The Emancipation Proclamation, which was signed January 1, 1863, mandated that every individual slave in Confederate states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” However, contrary to popular belief, it did not immediately set free any slaves. It only applied to Confederate states – not border states or regions that the Union army already controlled – and the Confederate slaveholders didn’t want their slaves freed.

The proclamation was put into effect in Confederate states as Union troops took control. Many slaves escaped their bondage by fleeing behind Union lines. Many slaveowners tried to avoid losing their slaves by moving to Texas, where slavery was still legal. But the Lone Star State only remained a safe haven for slaveowners until the spring of 1865, when U.S. General Gordon Granger arrived.

The general traveled to Galveston about two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. Upon arriving, Granger delivered General Orders 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.”

Even Granger’s declaration did not instantly free the 250,000 slaves in Texas, though. In many cases, slaveowners did not tell their slaves that they had been freed until the harvest season was over. Eventually, the rest found out about their newfound freedom. In December of 1865, the 13th Amendment was ratified, which abolished the practice of chattel slavery.

Juneteenth Celebrations

The 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 services, social gatherings, and other activities became integral parts of the Juneteenth celebrations. 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.

Race Relations & Media Affairs Correspondent at and A self-confessed news and political junkie, Jeff’s writing has been featured in Small Business Trends, Business2Community, and The Huffington Post. Born in Southern California and having experienced the 1992 L.A. Riots up close and personal, Jeff’s insights are informed by his experiences as a black man and a conservative.

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