Juneteenth, a Celebration of the Start of Freedom for Blacks in America

Illustrated print by Thomas Nast depicting life before and after emancipation. Photo credit Keith Lance/Getty Image

Annie Lindgren

North Forty News

Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19. Juneteenth – also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day – is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States.

By 1861, at the start of the Civil war, more than four million enslaved people lived in the fifteen southern border states of the United States. President Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860, was a vocal opponent of slavery.

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Lincoln, ended slavery. Well, it was the start anyway. The Proclamation established that all enslaved people in the Confederate states ‘shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.’ However, since the Proclamation only applied to places under Confederate control, it excluded slave-holding border states and rebel areas under Union control. 

A Constitutional Amendment was needed to abolish the institution of slavery in the United States. The work on this hit full force in April 1864, though struggled without enough Democratic support. After Lincoln won the re-election later that year, the Republicans put the proposed Amendment back a the top of their agenda. Lincoln, determined to have it pass this time, rallied support. Finally, on January 31, 1865, with just over two-thirds majority, the 13th Amendment passed, formally abolishing slavery in America.

Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865 and wouldn’t see the completion of all these efforts. Knowing the slow pace of progress and that ‘completion’ is relative to the various things in need of change. 

Texas was one of the four states where slavery continued even after the Amendment passed. Kentucky, Delaware, Mississippi, and some Choctaw Indian Territories didn’t end slavery until later 1865 or early 1866.

In Spring of 1865, General Granger and federal troops arrived in Galveston, TX, to force the issue in Texas. Granger read General Orders “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” On June 19, 1965, 250,000 Texan slaves were freed, and Juneteenth was born in celebration.

Juneteenth commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States. It is not the magical date where bills were signed and all freed, but it is a day set aside to celebrate this monumental step in progress for African American rights in the United States. It is not a national holiday yet, but many states and cities recognize it as a holiday, with more following suit. 

Colorado began recognizing Juneteenth as a ceremonial holiday in 2004. There are various celebrations around the state, some going on since 1953. Parades, musical acts, food, and booths are common themes. Many communities and organizations have events going on this year. The Juneteenth Music Festival in Denver looks like fun.

With the 2020’s Black Lives Matter movement, it is obvious there is still work to be done. Still, one step towards progress is acknowledging these elements of our history that created the foundation for injustice and the impetus for growth and change. So, regardless of your race, ethnicity, or gender, on this Juneteenth, take a moment to consider the value of having rights and what it might feel like to be in less fortunate shoes. Sometimes we take things for granted and forget all the blood, sweat, and lives lost while creating a better world for generations to come.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” Maya Angelou. 

Information for the above article was pulled from History.com. For more information on all the above topics, start with https://www.history.com/news/what-is-juneteenth

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