The Saratoga Sun -

What is Juneteenth?


Something I have always found interesting is the amount one can learn after having graduated from school. Of course, there is plenty to learn in school and there is only so much time to fit in mathematics, language arts, history and multiple other courses. Yet, just because those 12 years of school—if we’re not counting college or university—doesn’t mean that learning ever really stops.

Take for example something with such historical importance as the Emancipation Proclamation. This, of course, was the executive order that came from President Abraham Lincoln that effectively freed 3.5 million enslaved African-Americans in what was once the Confederate States of America.

The order, which was originally issued in September 1862, became effective on January 1, 1863. Eventually, the Union would win the Civil War. The 13th Amendment would be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Eventually, it was adopted on December 18, 1865.

Between the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation and the adoption of the 13th Amendment—nearly three years—another important date has been relatively unobserved. That of June 19, 1865; now known as Juneteenth.

Due to the rurality of the states within the Confederacy, news didn’t exactly travel fast. During the Civil War, a number of slaveholders and planters had emigrated to the Republic of Texas to escape most of the fighting. They took the majority of their slaves with them. When General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, the news of his surrender didn’t reach Texas until later that month.

It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that slaves in the Republic of Texas, as well as the slaveholders, knew of the Emancipation Proclamation. Union General Gordon Granger stood from the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston, Texas and issued the following declaration:

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 earliest celebrations of Juneteenth were a year after the declaration read by Granger in Galveston and it took nearly 100 years before the day was officially recognized by Texas. In 1979, legislation passed the state legislature and Juneteenth became a state recognized holiday on January 1, 1980. In the years since then, various states have adopted similar legislation to observe the day with Wyoming observing it beginning in 2003. 

While a number of states have passed legislation to observe Juneteenth as a state holiday, there are a few that do not. Those include; Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota. The most recent state to begin observing Juneteenth was New Hampshire, which began in 2019. Additionally, there has been a push for Juneteenth to be observed as a nationally observed holiday.

Much like how the Declaration of Independence is read on July 4, there are some celebrations of Juneteenth that hold a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. The reading of well-known African-American authors, such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou, is also encouraged on this day. I would also suggest the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. or James Baldwin.

This Juneteenth, it may be worthwhile to continue your education. 


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