Juneteenth: Celebrating Freedom in the 21st Century

Juneteenth is an opportunity to celebrate freedom and remember slavery.

On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln, a non-slave-owning U.S. president, signed the Emancipation Proclamation preserving the Union and, on paper, bringing an end to nearly two and half centuries of slavery, making it illegal for whites to own blacks as property. Not all states and slaveowners obeyed this Executive Order, and Texas was such a state.

Two and a half years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Major General Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, commissioned to read the following words,

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Though some slaveowners still withheld this information, Granger’s announcement signaled freedom for about 250,000 slaves in Texas. On June 19, 1865, the last group of slaves was finally free in America.

Although blacks were now legally free, obtaining freedom came with costs. Many who acted upon this announcement of freedom did so at their peril. Accounts from slaves say many were whipped, hanged, or shot rather than freed. This makes Juneteenth even more remarkable because, with eternal risk to their life, free black men and women began celebrating publically one year later, on June 19, 1866, and every year after that. Juneteenth is a blending of June and the nineteenth.

In 1980, Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. In June 2021, on the heels of the global response and race-reckoning to George Floyd being choked to death by Derek Chauvin, Congress passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday, which President Biden signed into law on June 17, 2021.

For many, Juneteenth is celebrated in the same way July Fourth is celebrated. July 4, 1776, is the birthday of our country’s national independence and political and religious freedom from British rule. Yet on July 4, 1776, there were about 5 million enslaved men, women, and children. Eighty-nine years later, on June 19, 1865, it was officially illegal everywhere in America to own another human being, making blacks free from the rule of white slaveowners, our Independence Day.

To celebrate, some host family cookouts or activities, barbecue, shoot fireworks, have parades, hold Juneteenth pageants, have step shows, shop only at black-owned businesses, donate to a cause, share family stories and history, go to church, rest at home, and more. Juneteenth is a day of celebration of freedom, remembrance of slavery, and gratitude for those that fought for our freedom.

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