With summer upon us now, and with trips to the lake house and the beach house, may we all take some time to pause for a moment of reflection as we remember a date that has been looked over for far too long, June 19th, or as it is now referred to as Juneteenth.
Since its start in 1865, and continuing today, Juneteenth is the longest running African American holiday that is commemorated to celebrate the end of slavery. Just two months prior, Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, but in Texas, not much changed until U.S. General Gordon Granger boldly proclaimed General Orders Number 3 declaring that all slaves are free.
The proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1963 had established that all enslaved people in Confederate states as a way to rebel against the Union shall be forever free. In reality, the proclamation that was issued did not instantly free any enslaved people. The rule only applied to places under Confederate control, and not to slave-holding border states or even rebel areas under Union control. During this time, as troops from the North migrated into the Confederate South, many of the slaves fled behind Union lines.
Slavery had continued in Texas as the state experienced no fighting or increased presence of Union troops. Many enslavers from other states had moved to Texas to experience a safe haven from slavery. After the war came to an end in the spring of 1865, 250,000 enslaved people were set free immediately. This emancipation did not happen immediately overnight for everyone. In some cases, enslavers withheld the information until after planting season. Celebrations started to increase among newly freed African American people, and Juneteenth was born into existence.
In 1866, Freedmen in Texas organized the first celebration of Juneteenth, from then on, Juneteenth commemorations have featured music, barbecues, prayer services, and other activities, and as our African American brothers and sisters migrated from Texas into other states, the Juneteenth Tradition began to spread.
In 1979, Texas became the very first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday, several other states have also made Juneteenth an official holiday as well. More recently, in June of 2021, Congress passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday, with President Joe Biden signing it into law on June 17, 2021
As we are ending the month of June, let us all commemorate Juneteenth as a time to gather as a family of one, united under the banner of love, regardless of skin color. May we reflect on the past, as we look to the future, as we all discover ways to celebrate the African American cultural tradition of music, food, and freedom for one and for all. Juneteenth is here to stay.
Written by: Gary Taylor