Juneteenth, June 19, the newest federal holiday made official last year when the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was signed, marks the freedom of enslaved Black people in the US.
It was on June 19, 1865, that a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned from a Union officer reading a federal order that they were free from the institution of slavery, almost two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Texas was the last of the Confederate states in which slavery continued, even though President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865. It took Union forces until June to reach Texas, the most remote state in the Confederacy, to enforce the federal order that ended slavery there. (The 13th Amendment adding the abolishment of slavery to the US Constitution passed Congress in January 1865 but wasn’t ratified and adopted until December 1865.)
The first Juneteenth in 1866 was celebrated with food, singing and the reading of spirituals. ”Defying confusion and delay, terror and violence, the newly “freed” black men and women of Texas…now had a date to rally around,” said professor and historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in the essay “What is Juneteenth?” “In one of the most inspiring grassroots efforts of the post-Civil War period, they transformed June 19 from a day of unheeded military orders into their own annual rite, “Juneteenth,” beginning one year later in 1866.”
A June 2022 press release on the website juneteenth.com says, “The observance of Juneteenth is about the journey and achievement of African Americans – from a horrific period of sanctioned enslavement to the pinnacle of human endeavors. It is a story of pride, resilience and determination that will always be of historical and spiritual importance – as it serves us well to understand that together, we can overcome all obstacles in our path.”
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