It's no secret that Black voices and Black holidays have never been given the recognition in the United States—or elsewhere—that they deserve. One such holiday is Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day or Freedom Day. A portmanteau of the date June 19, it marks the official emancipation of slaves in America (although we know now that slavery continued even thereafter). While absent from many people's history classes, June 19, 1865 was a monumental date in American history.
It's jarring to compare Juneteenth to the Fourth of July, another American date driven by so-called freedom, but one that has enjoyed far, far more recognition—and it's especially jarring to recall that on July 4, 1776, there were many Americans who could not enjoy freedom. As allies, it's essential to be educated about holidays like these. Here's everything you need to know about Juneteenth, which states celebrate it, and how you can honor it in your community.
The History of Juneteenth
More than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Union General Gordon Granger and approximately 1,800 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. Their mission? They planned to take control of the state and enforce what President Lincoln had implemented two years prior.
I know what you're thinking. How is that possible that a whole state, especially one as large as Texas, wouldn't have heard of the groundbreaking law, especially when it had been "in action" for two years? The reason: Texas was one of the few states in the South that had yet to be claimed by the Union army.
Since it was one of the few states left untouched, a ton of slave owners since the capture of New Orleans in 1862 from Mississippi, Louisiana, and other points East had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army. Wild, I know.
Down South, Granger read General Orders No. 3, which signaled freedom for Texas's 250,000 slaves and established the Union Army's authority over the people of Texas. It read:
"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."
Unfortunately, not everyone heard the news immediately. According to PBS, on plantations, masters ultimately decided when they would announce the news. Some waited for government agents to arrive, or waited to break the news until after the harvest season.
Despite the setbacks, that didn't stop celebrations among the newly freed as they celebrated the birth of a new holiday, which would become Juneteenth.
46 States Currently Recognize Juneteenth as a Holiday
In 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday, although it had been celebrated informally since 1865. Since then, all but four states recognize the holiday. Those states are Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana.
As for its status as a national holiday, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution last year recognizing "Juneteenth Independence Day" as a national holiday. Still, it has not yet been approved in the House.
How can I get involved in Juneteenth?
Organizations such as the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation in Mississippi are still seeking a Congressional designation of Juneteenth as a national holiday. The association recommends volunteering for one of the commissions listed on their website, having or promoting a Juneteenth Celebration in your community, or making a donation.
You can also make a difference right now by signing their petition, above, to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
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