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Juneteenth

also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day

Juneteenth is a holiday in the United States that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas in 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African-American citizens throughout the United States. Juneteenth is a combination of June and nineteenth, and is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in most states.

The day is observed primarily in local celebrations. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. There might be readings by African-American writers such as Maya Angelou and Ralph Ellison. Celebrations take many forms and might include parades, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, and such.

During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863.

Although it declared that slaves were to be freed in the Confederate States of America, it had minimal actual effect. Even after the ending of military hostilities, as a part of the former Confederacy, Texas did not act to comply with the Emancipation Proclamation.

On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived on the island of Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. On June 19, standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Granger read the contents of “General Order No. 3”:

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.

Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. Across many parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land specifically for their communities and increasingly large Juneteenth gatherings — including Houston’s Emancipation Park, Mexia’s Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.

Economic and cultural forces led to a decline in Juneteenth celebrations in the early 20th century. The Depression forced many blacks off farms and into the cities to find work. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s focused the attention of African-American youth instead on the struggle for racial equality, but many also linked these struggles to the historical struggles of their ancestors.

Following the 1968 Poor People’s March to Washington, D.C., called by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, many attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas where the day was not previously celebrated. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the day experienced growing interest from communities and organizations throughout the country, and in 1994 a group of community leaders gathered at Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana to work for greater national celebration of Juneteenth.

The event was made a Texas state holiday beginning in 1980, under legislation introduced by freshman Democratic state representative Al Edwards. The legislation was opposed by African-American representative Clay Smothers of Dallas County, who declared the holiday “fraudulent” and belittled the observance as merely “ceremoniously grinning and bursting watermelons on the Capitol grounds”. Juneteenth is a “partial staffing holiday”, meaning that state offices do not close, but some employees use a floating holiday to take the day off.

In 1996 the first legislation to recognize “Juneteenth Independence Day” was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.J. Res. 195, sponsored by Barbara-Rose Collins (D-MI). In 1997 Congress recognized the day through Senate Joint Resolution 11 and House Joint Resolution 56. In 2013.

We hope you have a wonderful Juneteenth!

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