June 19 is the official celebration of Juneteenth. This African American holiday commemorates the official announcement of the freedom of slaves in Texas and other southern states. Sadly, not many African Americans know the history of Juneteenth and why it is important to the diaspora. Herein, is an overview of all the facts you need to know about the importance of June 19 in African American history.
June 19, 1865 is said to mark the official date that ended slavery in the United States. Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended and slaves were officially free. Unfortunately, this message of freedom was more than two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln had declared the enslavement of African Americans unconstitutional in the Emancipation Proclamation signed on January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact in Texas and other southern states because of the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order.
Upon arrival in Texas, General Granger read the following order to Texans:
“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.”
Formerly enslaved Africans in Texas had mixed reviews about the news of freedom. Some were in complete shock, others were confused and some rejoiced with jubilation. Many slaves were documented to have stayed with former masters to test out their new “employer and hired labor” relationships. Others packed their belongings and went North in search of opportunities and family members. The emergence of newly freed Africans, however, was not viewed as a time of celebration by all. Many blacks encountered resistance to their change in status that sometimes became fatally violent.
Juneteenth celebrations were popular in the immediate years following the announcement of emancipation. Freed Africans would gather to enjoy festivities like rodeos, fishing, baseball, barbecuing and prayer services. Little interest outside of the African American community was shared about Juneteenth festivities. And in the early 1900s, Juneteenth historical lessons were all but excluded from school lessons and textbooks.
The reemergence of Juneteenth commemorations began during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator.
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