Juneteenth is not taught in American history books. Until a few years ago, few people outside of the Black community remembered June 19, 1865, as the day “a group of African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, received the news that they were indeed free.” On that day, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued an order announcing the end of slavery following President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier. Nearly 250,000 African-Americans were legally freed in Texas.
The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery, was ratified six months after Texas recognized enslaved people’s freedom. Then, 156 years later, President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, saying: “All Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history.” Juneteenth is the first public holiday since 1983: President Ronald Regan made Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a federal public holiday, first celebrated in 1986.
The first Juneteenth was celebrated in 1872. The Antioch Church, its pastor Reverend Jack Gates, and Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church purchased 10 acres in Houston, Texas. They created Emancipation Park to honor the end of slavery in Texas. Until the 1950s, it was the only public park and swimming pool in the city open for Black Americans.
Juneteenth may be gaining awareness, but state governments have slowly acknowledged the public holiday recognizing the end of slavery. According to a recent Pew Research report, government offices and state workers in at least 28 states and the District of Columbia will have a paid day off. On the other hand, Texas has honored June 19th as Emancipation Day since 1980.
Ways to Celebrate the End of Legal Slavery
The most important way to celebrate slavery’s end would be to learn the truth about this unpleasant time in American history. However, learning by attending historical-based events online or in person would be better than relying on vague history books. Organizations like Melaneyes Media, Our Daily Bread, the History Channel, and more have created documentaries about Juneteenth’s historical significance.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
RealClear PublicAffairs: Juneteenth: Taking Freedom Personally; by Elliott Drago
The New York Times: Biden Signs Law Making Juneteenth a Federal Holiday; by Annie Karni and Luke Broadwater
Pew Research: More than half of states will recognize Juneteenth as an official public holiday in 2023; by Katherine Schaeffer
The New York Times: Juneteenth: The History of a Holiday; by Derrick Bryson Taylor
Best Movies Right Now: 10 Must-Watch Slavery Movies