After 155 years, Juneteenth, a celebration of the emancipation of enslaved Americans, is finally being acknowledged as a holiday by state governments and corporations across the United States. Throughout history, Juneteenth has gained prominence at moments of struggle and pain for black liberation in America.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth, short for “June Nineteenth,” marks the day when union troops arrived in Galveston Texas back in 1865 to take control of the states, to ensure that all enslaved people be free. The troops’ arrival came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified in 1865 and abolished slavery throughout the entire United States. This day honors the end of slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday.
The post-emancipation period, known as Reconstruction (1865-1877), marks an era of struggle, uncertainty, and hope for the nation as a whole. Formerly enslaved people sought to run for political office, establish schools, push radical legislations, and sue slaveholders for compensation. Safe to say the change was nothing short of amazing after the two hundred years of enslavement. African Americans were empowered and inspired to transform their lives and their country.
While the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, it took more than two years for slaves in the South to learn that they were free. Confederate General Robert E. Lee has surrendered at Appomattox Cout House two months earlier in Virginia, but slavery had remained unaffected in Texas. On June 19th, 1865 General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to announce the end of the Civil War end of slavery. In reality, that is how the standard accounts of Juneteenth began, with Granger’s reading General Order No. 3, announcing slaves were free.
June 19th, also known as Emancipation Day, Jubille Day, Black Independence Day, is considered the United States’ second Independence Day. The day is now recognized by 47 States and the District of Columbia as a state holiday observance and is marking its 155th anniversary in 2020. This year, several Senators announced legislation to make Juneteenth, a widely observed holiday that marks a federal order to free slaves in Texas, a national holiday.
According to Sen, Cory Booker, D-N-J., “Juneteenth is about reclaiming our history, rejoicing in the progress we’ve made, and recommitting to the work yet undone. Our nation still has a long way to go to reckon with and overcome the dark legacy of slavery and the violence and injustice that has persisted after its end.” The bill was proposed by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Booker, Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is a cosponsor.
The Legislation would also call for the formation of a commission that would encourage the appropriate ceremonies and activities across the country.