Advertisement

For starters, Juneteenth is a fusion of June and Nineteenth. It's an annual celebration commemorating the freedom of enslaved African-Americans in the United States. On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, Major General Gordon Granger, accompanied by 1800 union soldiers, issued General Order No. 3 declaring "all slaves are free." The annual observance of June 19 started on the first anniversary in 1866. Thanks in part to the 'Freedmen's Aid Commission,' a grassroots organization that formed the 'Freedmen's Bureau.' Even though Granger dispatched Order No. 3 on June 19, many slave owners didn't free them immediately.

Advertisement

Texas was the last stand

Texas was a confederate state that had less than a handful of direct conflicts with Union troops. Although the Union won some battles, Texas was never occupied by the Union statewide. As a result, Texans didn't feel compelled to conform to federal law. Besides, by the time Granger arrived in Galveston, it was two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and Abraham Lincoln had already been assassinated.

In 1865 Texas held 250,000 enslaved people within its borders. Despite the war ending two months prior, many owners refused to free their slaves. Instead, it took Union agents to enforce compliance.

Advertisement

Why choose Juneteenth over other contenders?

There's a trove of significant dates as contenders for the commemoration of freedom. It begs the question, why Juneteenth and not Jan. 1, 1963, when Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation order went into effect? Or, when the 13th Amendment passed in Congress, abolishing slavery in all states on Jan. 31, 1865? When slaves heard Granger say "absolute equality," they went wild, erupting into a jubilant celebration. So, this day, above all others, evokes a sense of hope and celebration for Black Americans.

Advertisement

General Order No. 3

Here is a text version of “General Order No. 3,” that was printed in newspapers around the country:

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.

By order of Major General Granger

F.W. Emery

Major A.A. Genl.


Just before Juneteenth 2020, an administrator discovered the original handwritten Order No. 3 in the National Archives.

Dark hand in chains with American flag behind narvikk / Getty Images
Advertisement

Words have immense power

Notably, Granger referenced the "Executive of the United States" referring to Abraham Lincoln. Yet, Lincoln had already been assassinated by then. The real gem in Order No. 3 lies in the word "equality." The Emancipation Proclamation only mentions "freedom in rebellion states" with tons of provisions and caveats that are complex and unclear. Hence, the birth of the 13th Amendment stating the abolition of slavery in all states. Regrettably, Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. He didn't get to witness its final ratification on Dec. 6 of that year. Even though Order No. 3 explicitly addressed the people of Texas, the word "equality" was the defining difference between all documents.

1963 postage stamp commemorating the Emanicaption Proclamation.1863 raclro / Getty Images
Advertisement

The relevance of Juneteenth today

Over the past year, there have been several high-profile incidents of police violence against Black Americans. Videos emerged of George Floyd’s brutal death by a police officer that incited public outrage. It spurred protests around the world. So, it is no surprise that activists used Juneteenth to highlight inequalities and systemic racism throughout America. It has generated international interest in Juneteenth across generations and nations.

African american girl standing indoors and looking at the camera. She's showing an message that says Stop Racism on her hands. Aja Koska / Getty Images
Advertisement

Juneteenth finally is a national holiday

It took 156-years to proclaim Juneteenth a federal holiday. Thanks to President Biden, one and a half centuries of celebrations have finally culminated in a “Juneteenth Day of Observance.”

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 19, 2021, as Juneteenth Day of Observance. I call upon the people of the United States to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of Black Americans, and commit together to eradicate systemic racism that still undermines our founding ideals and collective prosperity."

A young woman stands near a piece of art created during the Louisville Juneteenth Festival at the Big Four Lawn on June 19, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day, commemorates the end of chattel slavery on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas, in compliance with President Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. U.S. President Joe Biden signed legislation into law as Juneteenth National Independence Day on June 17th, 2021. Jon Cherry / Getty Images
Advertisement

Listen, learn, reflect, and celebrate

Admittedly, the road to equality for Black Americans is far from over. But for now, the conversation is ongoing, and the United States is moving in the right direction, albeit incredibly slow. Consider celebrating Juneteenth in a way that resonates with your values. When you do, take a moment to imagine the euphoria those slaves must have felt in 1865.

Group of happy children Chatchai Limjareon / Getty Images

Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. The information on this Website is not intended to be comprehensive, nor does it constitute advice or our recommendation in any way. We attempt to ensure that the content is current and accurate but we do not guarantee its currency and accuracy. You should carry out your own research and/or seek your own advice before acting or relying on any of the information on this Website.