Sunday, April 21, 2024

The History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth 2021
(WYDaily Media)

NATIONWIDE — Juneteenth is an important holiday that is observed each year with municipalities across the country closing to honor this day. However, there are still many misconceptions as to what the origin story is to this holiday.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This document established that enslaved people in the rebelling Confederate states were freed. While the Emancipation Proclamation was a major milestone for Black Americans, it did not truly free everyone.

Enslaved individuals residing in border states (or states that remained part of the Union but were not forced to end slavery) nor Confederate areas that were under Union control were not freed by way of this order. It took the war coming to end for this to occur.

Shortly before noon on April 9, 1865 in the parlor of William McLean in Appomattox Courthouse, Va., Confederate General Robert E. Lee met with General-in-Chief of the United States’ forces, Ulysses S. Grant. It was there that Lee formally surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia, effectively bringing an end to the long and bloody war.

Despite the surrender, freedom wasn’t instantaneous. It took time for news to reach across the newly reunified nation, including to the Confederacy’s western most state, Texas.

At this point, Texas had been part of the United States (then the Confederate States) for less than 20 years. An ardent slave state, it was so far separated from the Civil War that many slaveowners fled to the Lone Star State in order to continue to practice slavery.

RELATED STORY: Colonial Williamsburg and Community Partners join for Juneteenth 2021

General Gordon Granger, who commanded the Headquarters District of Texas, and his troops arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 18, 1865 with news of emancipation. The following day, he issued General Order No. 3, which informed the residents of Texas that all of the 250,000 enslaved people were now free. Some historians have noted that some slaveowners withheld this information from their slaves until after the completion of harvest season.

On June 19, 1866, the freedmen in Texas organized a holiday called, “Jubilee Day.” Since that point, the annual celebration has taken on many monikers including “Freedom Day,” “Emancipation Day,” “Black Independence Day,” and, what it is commonly known as today, “Juneteenth.”

RELATED STORY: Local Closures in Recognition of Juneteenth

On January 1, 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as an official statewide holiday. Since then, most other states and Washington D.C. have followed suit.

However, the holiday was widely obscured to the mainstream public due to, amongst other reasons, its proximity to July 4 (American Independence Day) and that it was often overlooked in educational teachings.

In 2020, Juneteenth took on further meaning after activists stood in solidarity following the murder of George Floyd. The commemoration became more widely observed and it served to aid in the continued conversation across the nation regarding racial inequities.

On June 18, 2021, most municipalities around the Historic Triangle are closing their government offices in observance of Juneteenth. This Saturday (June 19), there will be wide scale celebrations meant to educate the public, continue the dialogue of inequities faced by Black communities, and to celebrate freedom from enslavement of Black Americans.


Related Articles