Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. It has been known by many names including Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and later Juneteenth.
Though Juneteenth has previously been recognized as a holiday by almost all states it had not been ratified into federal law as a national holiday, until today. The holiday legislation received overwhelming support on Tuesday in both chambers of Congress. On June 17, 2021 President Joseph Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act signifying it as an official federal holiday. This act makes Juneteenth the 12th legal public holiday, and the first new one since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law by then President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
Its origin is from 1865 where in Galveston, Texas on June 19th Union Army Major General Gordon Granger rode into town and read to the people of Texas General Order Number 3 which began with “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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
The celebrations that followed the reading of the proclamation by Major General Granger began the tradition that has lasted for 156 years.
The Emancipation Proclamation that Major General Granger referred to was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, but it took several years and the end of the Civil War for it to become a reality for hundreds of thousands of enslaved African-Americans. Even after more than two years there were still enslaved Black Americans who were unaware of their freedom, particularly those located in southern territories, where the word of their freedom either spread slowly or was just outright resisted.
Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. In some areas of our nation Juneteenth is celebrated as a day, a week, or even a month of reflection and rejoicing to the progress and freedom of African Americans. Often these days are marked with guest speakers, picnics, and family gatherings giving time for assessment, self-improvement, and exciting plans of the future.
It’s growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America that is long overdue. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities, and religions are joining together to truthfully acknowledge a time in our history that has shaped and continues evolve our society today. The celebration of Juneteenth is among the top commemorations that brings sensitivity to the conditions and experiences of others to make significant and lasting improvements in our society.
Lafayette Woods, Jr.