The Importance Of Juneteenth Explained

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Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the US (Credit: https://www.dodea.edu)

Juneteenth — a combination of the words June and nineteenth — is one of the oldest known holidays commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It was on June 19, 1865, that the nation's last enslaved people — a group in Texas — learned that slavery had been outlawed and that they were free. The events leading to what many call "America's true Independence Day" began with the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863.

The order, issued during the American Civil War (1861-1865), freed millions of slaves in 11 Confederate States: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. However, the Union-loyal border states of Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky were exempt and continued to practice slavery. The 13th Amendment, passed by the United States Congress on January 31, 1865, closed the loophole and made slavery illegal throughout the country.

The 13th Amendment helped free all slaves not freed by the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation (Credit: www.abraham-lincoln-history.org)

The combined legislation helped free all but a group of about 250,000 slaves in Texas. Unaware of the new laws, they remained in bondage until June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce General Order No. 3. It stated: "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."

Juneteenth was born the following year when a group of former Texan slaves celebrated their newly-found freedom with cookouts, dancing, and prayers. Over time, Freedom Day, or Black Independence Day, as it is also called, has been observed in varying degrees in most US states. It was even declared a state holiday in Texas in 1980. However, the holiday is still poorly understood outside of the African American community and often overshadowed by the July 4th Independence Day celebration. But the growing awareness of continued systemic racism in the US is finally bringing forth Juneteenth's national significance.

An early celebration of Juneteenth (Credit: Mrs. Charles Stephenson (Grace Murray)Public domain/ Wikimedia Commons)

Starting 2021, Juneteenth will be a state holiday in Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania. Oregon and Washington recently passed legislation to make Juneteenth a holiday starting in 2022. Large corporations, like Twitter, Nike, and Spotify, have also begun to include June 19 to their annual roster of paid employee holidays.

The steadily growing recognition is not enough for Opal Lee, who has been fighting for Juneteenth to be a national holiday since 1989. The 94-year-old says, "None of us are free until we are all free. And we weren’t free on the Fourth of July in 1776. I’m advocating we celebrate from the 19th of June until the 4th of July. That would be celebrating freedom."

Every June 19, the activist brings attention to the quest by leading a 2.5 mile-long walk down West Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth, Texas. The distance symbolizes the 2.5 years it took for the slaves in Texas to find out they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Lee has also taken her cause online with a petition for 3 million signatures on Change.org. So far, over 1.6 million people have signed up, and the numbers are increasing daily. While the 94-year-old is confident that Juneteenth will soon be declared a national holiday, she just hopes it will be during her lifetime.

Happy Juneteenth!

Resources: Wikidpedia.org, CNN.com, NPR.com

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75 Comments
  • dinonuggies8901
    this is my b day
    • explorer1221
      explorer12215 months
      No one should ever treat anybody badly because of their skin color or problems.
      • goldengenius
        goldengenius7 months
        It took many, many, MANY years for then to make the 13th amendment. And the next one, the 14 amendment, gave women the right to vote. But not to change the topic. Its harsh for slaves. #blm
        • uzumaki_chan
          uzumaki_chan10 months
          I am so happy that they are no longer slaves!!! I think no matter what skin color we can do anything I don't understand why ppl are racist....😟
          • ssana
            ssana11 months
            I've never heard of juneteenth but I totally support it
            • goldengenius
              goldengenius11 months
              I can tell you ssana! Juneteenth is a celebration about the freedom of slaves and the name is mixed up with June and nineteenth. Slaves didn't hear about it until two months later! (Oh wow 😑)
            • aneilys_237
              aneilys_23711 months
              Love to😍
              • joybomb
                joybomb11 months
                I"M SO HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY!!!
                • joybomb
                  joybomb11 months
                  YAY!!Juneteenth!!
                  • bucketboi
                    bucketboi11 months
                    I cant wait to celebrate!
                    • sophiagrace12
                      sophiagrace1211 months
                      I think it is amazing that they are fighting to make Juneteenth a holiday! I definitely think it should be, since it celebrates freedom. Our country is all about freedom for all, so we should stay true to that and make Juneteenth a National Holiday! Like if you agree!