Juneteenth, June 19, the newest federal holiday, is a nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
On June 19, 1865, 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.)
In 1866, the first Juneteenth 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 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.”
“Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement…It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future… Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society,” says a statement on juneteenth.com.
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