the history of juneteenth
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What is Juneteenth 2023: History, Meaning and Facts You Should Know

Juneteenth, an abbreviation for “June Nineteenth,” commemorates the day in 1865 when federal troops entered Galveston, Texas, to seize control of the region and guarantee the freedom of all slaves.

 

Following the nationwide protests that followed the police killings of Black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as the renewed interest in Juneteenth during the summer of 2020, President Biden signed legislation last year declaring the day, which falls on June 19, a federal holiday.

 

History and Origin of Juneteenth

 

The first Watch Night services were held on “Freedom’s Eve,” which is to say, the night before January 1, 1863. African Americans who were both enslaved and free congregated in churches and private residences around the nation that evening in anticipation of the Emancipation Proclamation’s implementation. 

 

All slaves in the Confederate States were declared to be free at the stroke of midnight, answering prayers. Reading miniature copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, Union soldiers, many of whom were black, marched into plantations and through southern cities, spreading the word of freedom in the Confederate States. Emancipation only brought an end to slavery in the entire United States with the Thirteenth Amendment.

 

But not everyone would be instantly free in Confederate territory. The Emancipation Proclamation was put into force in 1863, but it could not be carried out in areas still governed by the Confederacy. Enslaved persons would therefore not become free until much later in Texas, the westernmost Confederate state. On June 19, 1865, when about 2,000 Union forces arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, freedom was at last achieved. The army declared that the state’s more than 250,000 black slaves had been set free by executive order. The newly emancipated people in Texas began calling this day “Juneteenth.”

 

Why is Texas Important to Juneteenth? 

 

When Major General Gordon Granger issued the aforementioned order, he had no idea that he was also laying the groundwork for a holiday known as “Juneteenth” (composed of the words “June” and “nineteenth”), which is now the most well-known annual commemoration of emancipation from slavery in the United States. 

 

After all, the Confederate capital of Richmond had fallen by the time Granger took up command of the Department of Texas; President Lincoln, the “Executive” he was referring to; and the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, was close to becoming law.

 

Granger, though, was more than a few months late. Nearly 200,000 black soldiers had enlisted in the army during the intervening two and a half years, and the Emancipation Proclamation itself had ended slavery in the Confederacy (at least on paper). So, putting niceties aside, wasn’t it practically over but for the shouting?

 

In this age of instant communication, it would be simple to assume as such, but as Granger and the 1,800 bluecoats under him quickly discovered, word spread slowly in Texas. The Army of the Trans-Mississippi had held out until late May, despite Gen. Robert E. Lee’s capitulation in Virginia, and even after its formal surrender on June 2, some former rebels in the area turned to bushwhacking and plundering.

 

The extreme western frontier of the old Confederate states experienced other problems as well. Slave owners from Mississippi, Louisiana, and other states in the east have been moving to Texas since the Union Army took control of New Orleans in 1862 in order to avoid their reach. 

 

According to historian Leon Litwack in his book Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery, more than 150,000 slaves had made the journey west in a hasty recreation of the original Middle Passage. It seemed like everyone in the world was heading to Texas, as one former slave he quotes recalled.

 

For the majority of the 250,000 slaves in the Lone Star State, it wasn’t precisely instant magic when Texas fell and Granger sent out his now-famous order No. 3. On plantations, owners had to choose when and how to break the news, or they might wait for a government representative to show up. It was not unusual for owners to wait until after the harvest. 

 

When Major General Gordon Granger issued the aforementioned order, he had no idea that he was also laying the groundwork for a holiday known as “Juneteenth” (composed of the words “June” and “nineteenth”), which is now the most well-known annual commemoration of emancipation from slavery in the United States. After all, the Confederate capital of Richmond had fallen by the time Granger took up command of the Department of Texas; President Lincoln, the “Executive” he was referring to; and the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, was close to becoming law.

 

Granger, though, was more than a few months late. Nearly 200,000 black soldiers had enlisted in the army during the intervening two and a half years, and the Emancipation Proclamation itself had ended slavery in the Confederacy (at least on paper). So, putting niceties aside, wasn’t it practically over but for the shouting?

 

In this age of instant communication, it would be simple to assume as such, but as Granger and the 1,800 bluecoats under him quickly discovered, word spread slowly in Texas. The Army of the Trans-Mississippi had held out until late May, despite Gen. Robert E. Lee’s capitulation in Virginia, and even after its formal surrender on June 2, some former rebels in the area turned to bushwhacking and plundering.

 

The extreme western frontier of the old Confederate states experienced other problems as well. Slave owners from Mississippi, Louisiana, and other states in the east have been moving to Texas since the Union Army took control of New Orleans in 1862 in order to avoid their reach. According to historian Leon Litwack in his book Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery, more than 150,000 slaves had made the journey west in a hasty recreation of the original Middle Passage. It seemed like everyone in the world was heading to Texas, as one former slave he quotes recalled.

 

For the majority of the 250,000 slaves in the Lone Star State, it wasn’t precisely instant magic when Texas fell and Granger sent out his now-famous order No. 3. On plantations, owners had to choose when and how to break the news, or they might wait for a government representative to show up. It was not unusual for owners to wait until after the harvest.

 

How Do We Celebrate Juneteenth?

 

Today, while some celebrations take place among families in backyards where soul food is an integral element, some cities, like Atlanta and Washington, hold larger events, including parades and festivals with residents, local businesses and more.

 

While celebrations in 2020 and 2021 were largely subdued by the coronavirus pandemic, some cities this year are pressing forward with plans.

 

Galveston has remained a busy site for Juneteenth events over the years, said Douglas Matthews, who has helped coordinate them for more than two decades.

 

After dedicating a 5,000-square-foot mural last year, in 2022 Galveston will celebrate the holiday with a banquet, poetry festival, parade and a picnic. Organizers in Atlanta will hold a parade and music festival at Centennial Olympic Park, and similar events are scheduled in Baltimore, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Tulsa, Okla.

 

Early celebrations involved prayer and family gatherings, and later included annual pilgrimages to Galveston by former enslaved people and their families.

 

In 1872, a group of African American ministers and businessmen in Houston purchased 10 acres of land and created Emancipation Park which was intended to hold the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration.

 

Is Juneteenth Bigger Then Black History Month? 

 

Lately the sentiment around Juneteenth as OUR national holiday has grown much stronger then the corporate celebration that Black History Month has gotten. 

 

Journalist Vann R. Newkirk II argued in The Atlantic that Juneteenth is still the most celebrated emancipation festival in the United States and symbolizes a win for Black Americans that was overdue. The event serves as a reminder that Black people have battled for their legal rights and still do, according to him.

 

Why has Juneteenth gained such significance?

 

Thousands of Americans took to the streets in protest after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who passed away while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police in May 2020. The names of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, Mr. Arbery, David McAtee, and others became a national call to action for change, essentially reviving the Black Lives Matter campaign.

 

It changed gradually over time. The use of chokeholds and strangleholds by the police was outlawed in Minneapolis, and it was mandated that officers must intervene and report any use of excessive force.

 

Wide-ranging legislation against police misbehavior and racial discrimination was proposed by Democrats in Congress. The bill was the broadest legislative engagement in policing in recent memory.

 

Businesses from all sectors of the economy expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement and suspended or fired workers who made racist or mocking comments about Mr. Floyd’s killing.

 

Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was convicted of two counts of murder in April 2021 in connection with the passing of Mr. Floyd. But many city residents argue that real improvement has been slow two years later.

 

There are some similarities between the conclusion of the Civil War and the turmoil that gripped the nation, according to Mark Anthony Neal, an expert on African-American studies at Duke University. He also noted that the time felt like a “rupture.”

 

The stakes have changed somewhat, according to Mr. Neal.

 

He remarked, “I feel like Juneteenth feels a little different now. It’s a chance for people to take a moment to gather their thoughts after the rapid rate of change and shifting that has been observed.

 

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