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Juneteenth: African-American Emancipation Day on June 19th

In 1980, Texas became the first state in the United States to recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday, and today all fifty states and the District of Columbia (DC) have recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday or observance.

The United States House of Representatives passed a bill, on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, sending it to President Biden’s desk for signature into law. The final vote on the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was 415-14. Some Republicans objected to the title of the bill, saying that it was improper given the July 4 holiday commemorating the passage of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 by the Continental Congress.

Juneteenth is the first new Federal Holiday since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was passed as a holiday back in 1983.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is an annual holiday, celebrated on June 19th in the United States, commemorating the end of slavery. The holiday originated in Galveston, Texas (the county seat of Galveston County, Texas) located along the Gulf Coast region in Texas within the Greater Houston area. For more than a century, the state of Texas was the primary home of Juneteenth celebrations. More recently, however, its observance has spread across the nation.

Though the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect on January 1, 1863, it had little immediate impact on most slaves’ day-to-day lives, particularly in Texas, which was almost entirely under Confederate control. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived on Galveston Island to take possession of the state and enforce slaves’ new freedoms. Standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa. Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3”:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. That are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

That day has since become known as Juneteenth, derived from the slang combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth.”

Slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. Across many parts of Texas, freed slaves pooled their funds to purchase land specifically for their communities’ increasingly large Juneteenth gatherings – including Houston’s Emancipation Park, Mexia Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin, Texas. Within a few years, these celebrations had spread to other states and become an annual tradition. Celebrations often opened with praying and religious ceremonies, and included a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. A wide range of festivities entertained participants, from music and dancing to contests of physical strength and intellect. Food was central to the celebrations, and barbecued meats were especially popular.

The late Tom Feelings, Black artist, illustrator of children’s books and Brooklyn, New York native had stated, “But, if this part of our history could be told in such a way that those chains of the past, those shackles that physically bound us together against our wills could, in the telling, become, ironically, a positive connecting line to all of us whether living inside or outside the continent of Africa…”

Juneteenth is a day of reflection, a day of renewal, a pride-filled day. It is a moment in time taken to appreciate the African-American experience. It is inclusive of all races, ethnicities and nationalities – as nothing is more comforting than the hand of a friend. Juneteenth is a day on which honor and respect is paid for the sufferings of slavery. It is a day on which we acknowledge the evils of slavery and its aftermath. On Juneteenth, we talk about our history and realize, because of it, there will forever be a bond between us. On Juneteenth, we think about that moment in time when the enslaved in Galveston, Texas received word of their freedom. We imagine the depth of their emotions, their jubilant dance and their fear of the unknown.

Juneteenth is a day that we commit to each other the needed support as family, friends and co-workers. It is a day that we build coalitions that enhance African-American economics.

On Juneteenth, we come together, young and old, to listen, to learn and to refresh the drive to achieve. It is a day where we all take one step closer together – to better utilize the energy wasted on racism. Juneteenth is a day that we pray for peace and liberty for all.

Juneteenth Flag
Juneteenth Flag
The colors of the Juneteenth Flag are red, white and blue, the same colors of the United States Flag. The Juneteenth Flag emphasizes that those formerly enslaved and their descendants are Americans. Communal meals are a part of early Juneteenth celebrations, typically of gatherings with traditional soul food.

Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas
Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas
Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas
Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas

Last updated on June 6, 2024

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