Juneteenth | America’s Other Independence Day

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During America’s Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln penned two Emancipation Proclamations. The first, called the “Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation,” was issued on September 22, 1862 with a warning that all slaves would be freed if the Confederate states did not rejoin the Union.

President Lincoln’s second Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863 declared “that all persons held as slaves are free.” This applied to slaves in the Confederate states. However, slaves in the state of Texas were among the last to be made aware of the proclamation.

More than two years later when the Civil War ended, Union General Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 to deliver the news and enforce General Order Number 3. The document 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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.

Slavery was officially, and in theory, abolished on December 6, 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted. It stated, Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

In this move towards freedom, former slaves in the state of Texas coined Juneteenth, a blend of “June” and “nineteenth,” as the day emancipation would be observed annually. It is reported that former slaves pooled money to purchase a 10-acre plot of land in Houston in 1872 as a place to gather and celebrate what is also known as “Freedom Day.” Texas was the first state to make it an official holiday. As people moved to other states, Juneteenth celebrations became more widespread in homes, churches and communities.

In 2021, a resolution passed by Congress made Juneteenth a national holiday. President Joseph Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law on June 17, 2021 making it an official federal holiday. This year, it will be observed nationwide on Monday, June 20, 2022.