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What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865, the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, and throughout the former Confederate States of America.

To understand Juneteenth and its significance, its important to know its history.

When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, it declared that all enslaved people in the Confederate States of America, and not already in Union hands, were to be freed. The Proclamation has January 1, 1863 effective date.

However, it would not be until June 19, 1865 – more than two years later – that Union soldiers, led by Union Major-General Gordon Granger, rolled into Galveston, Texas and read the General Orders, No.3 to the townspeople. It stated:

“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.”

The news “freed” an estimated quarter-million slaves in the area, many of which had no idea they were declared free people more than two years prior.

The following year, freedmen/women organized the first of what became an annual celebration of Juneteenth throughout Texas, and eventually neighboring states.

Juneteenth’s popularity waned as the decades passed. In 1979, Texas state legislator Al Edwards introduced a bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday. The first state-approved celebration took place in 1980.

Today, Juneteenth is recognized as either a state holiday or ceremonial day of observance in 43 states and the District of Columbia. There’s also been a push by organizations seeking a Congressional designation of Juneteenth as a national day of observance.

 

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