The Historical Legacy Of Juneteenth

The Historical Legacy Of Juneteenth

On June 19th, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. Juneteenth, as it was and is still called, has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s. In 2021, President Biden signed legislation to make Juneteenth, which falls on June 19th, a federal holiday. Even before passing this bill, there was an observable increase in Juneteenth celebrations across the United States. 

How Did Juneteenth Begin?

The federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in June of 1865, a full two months after the Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. The arrival of General Gordon Granger and his 2,000 troops was to inform the nearly 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Texas of their freedom and the end of the Civil War. General Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Abraham Lincoln issued nearly two and half years earlier on January 1, 1863. The holiday, Juneteenth, is also called Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day. 

The post-emancipation period, or Reconstruction (1865-1867) marked an era of new hope, uncertainty, and struggle for the nation. Formerly enslaved people sought to reunite with families, establish schools, push laws into legislation, run for political office, and even sue slaveholders for compensation. Juneteenth, then, acts as a second day of independence in the United States. 

How Is Juneteenth Celebrated?

Despite the fact that it has been a long celebrated tradition in the African American community, Juneteenth is a monumental event that remains largely unknown to most Americans. The historical legacy of the day represents the value of never giving up hope in times of uncertainty. While many people may get the day off work for this federal holiday, early celebrations involved small family gatherings and prayer. As the years went by, later celebrations involved pilgrimages to Galveston to former enslaved people and their families. 

In 1872, a group of African American businessmen and ministers in Houston, Texas purchased 10 acres of land to create Emancipation Park. The park held the city’s annual Juneteenth celebrations for years. Today, celebrations often take place among families and food is typically a focal point. Some cities, including Washington D.C. and Atlanta, hold larger events that include festivals and parades with local businesses and residents. 

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many Juneteenth celebrations were on hold for 2020 and 2021. That’s why celebrations ramped up in 2022 and future plans for the holiday are only growing. Galveston continues to remain a busy site for Juneteenth events, and artists dedicated a 5,000-square-foot mural in 2021. This year, in 2023, Galveston will celebrate the holiday with a scholarship ball, a banquet, and a festival. Organizers in Atlanta will hold a parade and music festival, while other cities, including Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Tulsa, And Philadelphia, will hold similar events. 

The Path To A Federal Holiday

Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980. All 50 states and the District of Colombia now recognize the holiday in some way, shape, or form. In the wake of the nationwide protests against police brutality in 2020, the push for federal recognition of Juneteenth gained new momentum. Congress rushed the bill through legislation in the summer of 2021. 

In fact, the House passed the measure by a vote of 415 to 14. The opposing votes came from members of the Republican party. Some of the opposers even argued that calling the new holiday Juneteenth Independence Day, echoing July 4, would create confusion among the American public and force them to choose a celebration of freedom based on race. 

The law went into effect on June 17, 2021, making Juneteenth the 11th federally-recognized holiday. The first federal Juneteenth holiday was observed the very next day after President Biden signed the bill into law. Juneteenth was observed on June 18, as June 19 fell on a Saturday.

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