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A Brief History of Juneteenth

On June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger read to a crowd in Galveston, Texas the federal orders that all enslaved people were free.

“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.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all enslaved African-Americans in the Confederate States, on Sept. 22, 1862. However, word did not reach Texas, the most remote of the Confederate States (which were defeated in April), until June of 1865. Slavery did not officially end in the United States until Dec. 6, 1865, when the 13th Amendment was ratified, which abolished slavery in every state and territory, except as punishment for a crime.

Celebrations of Juneteenth, Emancipation Day or Freedom Day began the very next year in Texas and then spread throughout the South. It went from the date of a late announcement of a military order to a grassroots celebration of African-Americans’ newfound freedom.

Due to the establishment of Jim Crow laws, public celebrations in many southern cities became difficult, so oftentimes African-Americans had to find their own celebration spaces away from the white public eye.

Recently this holiday has garnered attention due to the Black Lives Matter movement, and from President Donald Trump’s decision to host a campaign rally on this day in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This rally has since been moved to the following day after many have criticized it as tone-deaf or offensive in the wake of the recent wave of protests against police brutality.

Why is Juneteenth important if it is not the official day of emancipation? Juneteenth is important not because it marked the newfound freedom; it is important because it was the day when finally everybody knew about it. Every Black person in the United States finally became on the same page about where they stood with regard to the law.

BUnow hopes that all students have a wonderful Juneteenth!

Alumnus of BUnow. Former general manager.