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Monthly Spotlight: Juneteenth


What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated by African Americans throughout the United States on June 19th. Also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, the holiday commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. Specifically, Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned that they had been freed under President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Union Major General Gordon Granger announced the contents of the proclamation in Galveston, Texas, informing the enslaved people who were present that slavery had been outlawed in the state. As time went on, the holiday also came to symbolize social and legal progress for the Black community. Juneteenth has been recognized as an official state holiday in most regions of the United States. In June 2021, Juneteenth was made an official federal holiday.--Tyler Biscontini

Why do we celebrate?

Celebrating Juneteenth is a way to honor those who have been enslaved, to have the population learn more about this period of time within the United States specifically, and to celebrate the achievements of African-Americans. The national holiday comes at a time of intensifying popular interest in the history of slavery, slave rebellion, emancipation, the Reconstruction era, and Jim Crow, as well as in the history and evolution of Juneteenth itself and its regional celebration over many years in a variety of African American communities beyond Texas. --Diane Patrick and Calvin Reid, Celebrating Juneteenth

How did it become a national holiday?

   In the wake of the nationwide protests against police brutality in 2020, the push for federal recognition of Juneteenth gained new momentum, and Congress quickly pushed through legislation in the summer of 2021.

   In the House, the measure passed by a vote of 415 to 14, with all of the opposition coming from Republicans, some of whom argued that calling the new holiday Juneteenth Independence Day, echoing July 4, would create confusion and force Americans to choose a celebration of freedom based on their race.

   On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed the bill into law, making Juneteenth the 11th holiday recognized by the federal government. At a White House ceremony, Mr. Biden singled out Opal Lee, an activist who at the age of 89 walked from her home in Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., and called her “a grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.”

   The law went into effect immediately, and the first federal Juneteenth holiday was celebrated the next day. (The holiday was observed on June 18, as June 19 fell on a Saturday.) --Derrick Bryson Taylor, The New York Times

For more articles check out:

How many enslaved people were affected by the issuance of the Juneteenth Order?

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves'' within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."  Because the Southern Confederacy viewed itself as an independent nation, the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free all of the enslaved population because the Rebel governments would not enforce Lincoln’s proclamation. Texas became a stronghold of Confederate influence in the latter years of the Civil War as the slaveholding population 'refugeed' their slave property by migrating to Texas. Consequently, more than 50,000 enslaved individuals were relocated to Texas, effectively prolonging slavery in a region far from the Civil War's bloodshed, and out of the reach of freedom—the United States Army. Only after the Union army forced the surrender of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith at Galveston on June 2, 1865, would the emancipation of slaves in Texas be addressed and freedom granted. On June 19, 250,000 enslaved people were freed. --American Battlefield Trust

  • The Liberator
    • Find out how many slaves were freed in some northern states

Facts about Juneteenth:

From the American Battlefield Trust

  1. Part of General Order No. 3 encouraged the newly freed people to remain with their past owners. 
  2. The period after Juneteenth is known as the ‘Scatter.’ 
  3. Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas was bought specifically to celebrate Juneteenth. 

From CNN

  1. Juneteenth National Independence Day is the first federal holiday established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983 and is at least the 11th federal holiday recognized by the US federal government.
  2. Nearly half of the states recognize Juneteenth as a paid state holiday, and all states have some recognition or observance, according to the Pew Research Center.
  3. Opal Lee is known as the “grandmother of Juneteenth.” The Texas activist worked for years to have Juneteenth recognized nationwide. She attended the presidential signing of the bill into law.
    1. Former Texas state representative Al Edwards was known as the “father of Juneteenth.” Edwards sponsored the bill that made Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980.
  4. Before the Civil War, it was legal in 15 states to enslave people: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
  5. Enslaved people in the United States were estimated at 3,953,760 in 1860, according to statistics provided by the National Bureau of Economic Research
  6. During the Civil War, almost 200,000 African American men served in the Union Army and Navy.
  7. There were 46,273,733 Black or African American people (one race alone or in combination) in the United States in 2020, according to the most recent Census Bureau estimate. 


How to celebrate! Part 1

How to celebrate! Part 2

Facts about Juneteenth: Continued

From NBC

  1. Though much of the language in the Emancipation Proclamation suggests otherwise, Lincoln’s primary objective was not to ameliorate the lives of those in bondage. Rather, his intent was to preserve the Union.
    1. Lincoln and the Union army used slavery as a political motive to justify strengthened military endeavors against the Confederacy. Black soldiers were able to fight for the Union when Lincoln passed the Proclamation. Though they faced discrimination and often performed menial roles because of presumed incompetence, they increased the Union army in size.
  2. Freedom did not come at the “snap of a finger” for everyone in Texas. Some people who should’ve been freed continued to work through the harvest season because their masters withheld this announcement to reap more wages out of their slaves. This left many former slaves treated as though they were still in bondage.
  3. In the 1870s, a group of former slaves pooled $800 together through local churches to purchase ten acres of land and create Emancipation Park to host future Juneteenth celebrations in modern-day Houston.

More Articles and statistics about Juneteenth and Slavery

Juneteenth Timeline

Want to see the timeline from the Emancipation Declaration to when Juneteenth became an official holiday?

Scroll down to see a snippet of how history was made!