Originally written on June 19, 2020 – updated 2023
June 19 is one of the most important days in the history of the United States, representing the day that the last slaves in the country were set free.
All over the country people celebrate the day that freedom took another step forward in the new world, and one more crime against humanity was cancelled and set to rights. And Juneteenth, short for “June Nineteenth”, celebrates this great event and the changes in made in the future of America.
It’s also known as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day”.
Texas was never directly involved in the Civil War and, when the Emancipation Proclamation was established its slaves were not directly affected, so much so that people from all over had migrated into Texas to avoid the fighting that was going on everywhere else. Thousands of slaves entered the Lone Star state during this time, and it took some time for freedom to finally reach them.
On this day, June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger, hero of the Civil War battle of Chickamauga, arrived in Galveston, Texas, and read from a balcony in Ashton Villa a single-page declaration of terse no-frills military orders. It said, in part:
“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. They 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.”
The “Executive” he was referring to was Abraham Lincoln, and the proclamation was the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves two years before—on New Year’s Day, 1863—contingent on the Union winning the war.
Despite Robert E. Lee surrendering at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, it took some time for the news of emancipation to reach all corners of the Confederacy, and many slave owners withheld the information.
Meanwhile, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana, and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the fighting. More than 150,000 slaves had made the trek west. And the last battle of the war was fought a month later on May 13th at Palmito Ranch, Texas.
Nearly a quarter of a million slaves in Texas did not realize they were free until the day Gordon Granger spoke at Galveston. Following his speech, the newly freed African-Americans began celebrating, and Juneteenth was born.
That December, slavery in America would be formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.
Since then, Juneteenth celebrations have spread to nearly every state in the Union and, despite Texas was the first to officially recognize the holiday in 1980, it grew in popularity for all Americans.
By 2008 most states observed the day as either a state holiday or a ceremonial holiday, and efforts are underway to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law Juneteenth National Independence Day. It will become the 12th legal public holiday, and the first new one signed into law since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan.
Celebrations on this day include reading aloud the Emancipation Proclamation, participating in church services of praise and thanksgiving, singing of traditional anthems and hymns, such as “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” Many also read from poems by Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes, as well as the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
There are also parades, fireworks displays, and rodeos.
A special Juneteenth flag, designed in red, white, and blue, depicts a five-pointed star at the center, similar to the Texas state flag, and a 12-pointed star that bursts forth around it, symbolizing a new dawn of freedom for a people formerly in bondage.
Cookouts and eating of special foods, including traditional soul food recipes and Texas barbecue brisket, are often included in the Juneteenth festivities. Tea Cakes, a kind of sugar cookie, were a longstanding part of African-American food culture, baked all over the south for special occasions, and on this day, they are served up as a symbol of the sweetness of Freedom. Strawberry soda is also a popular drink in the celebrations. In this case, the red color symbolizes the blood shed and hardship endured by African-American slaves.
However, the fight for freedom is not yet over for African-American’s, with thousands facing persecution and racism every year. While great strides have been made to help ease this and bring understanding between people of every race, only an appreciation for the difficult past and working together to change the future will really bring about the completion of what started in 1865.
Images from web – Google Research