Our history books tell us that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. With the mighty stroke of a pen, on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. However, the 1860s was not a time of Internet and wireless technology. The word traveled slowly. And almost two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and a compliment of Union Soldiers marched into Galveston, Texas to deliver the proclamation of freedom. It is the anniversary of this faithful day that that many Americans celebrate as Juneteenth.
Juneteenth, sometimes referred to as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a symbolic holiday. It is a day that people recognize that July 4th is not the only independence day for many Americans and it marks a time when their was hope that all Americans could take part in the American dream. As stated by Reverend Ronald Myers, the Chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, some years ago, “[i]t’s a bittersweet holiday, “a time of celebration, but also a time of reflection, healing, and hopefully a time for the country to come together and deal with its slave legacy.”
In 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation had been proposed and after some painstaking drafting, President Lincoln signed it into law; however, the American Civil War had been underway since April 1961. The war came about for a number of reasons, one of which was the institution of slavery. At the time of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamationin 1963, families, communities, and states remained divided and some of the bloodiest days of the war were to come. However, by April 1965, the Confederacy surrendered. Slaves around the country had only heard rumors that President Lincoln had freed them. By June 19, 1865, the last remaining slaves, those in Galveston, received the news.
Juneteenth is celebrated around the world. In America, one state, Texas, celebrates it as an official legal holiday. Many others, about 36, acknowledge the day. The popularity of the holiday has changed over time. As our nation has gone through periods of unrest and social progress, the holiday has become more of recognition of history and the uniqueness of the American experience.
Juneteenth shares the late Spring and Summer with other holidays including Memorial Day, Flag Day, Father’s Day and Independence Day. As such, it does not get as much attention as these more popular holidays. Nonetheless, many communities do not overlook the day and mark the occasion in a number of ways. Communities from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco observe the holiday with jazz and arts festivals, proclamations, conventions, food, prayer services and flag raisings.
While the holiday has been the subject of songs and novels, it is not as well known in America as other patriotic or independence related holidays. It is the goal of Rev. Myers and the National Juneteenth Observation Foundation that the holiday become akin to America’s second Independence Day.
On the cusp of summer, many Americans, white and black, will celebrate Juneteenth. This day commemorates a time when the ravages of a bitter war ended and the hope of sharing in the American dream became real for millions.
For information on this holiday, check out the following websites: