By Mikala McCurry
Juneteenth is regarded as the oldest celebration of freedom in the United States for African Americans. Today’s celebrations include barbeques, rodeos, religious ceremonies, athletic games, and fun family gatherings. Although Juneteenth is acknowledged as a joyous holiday, it was hardly a day for celebration.
The Emancipation Proclamation, passed in January of 1963, freed all slaves in rebellious states. Because the order only applied to states that had seceded from the Union, the order was not enforced or acknowledged in many states, including Texas.
On June 15, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was passed, General Gordon Granger, a Union soldier, arrived in Galveston, Texas to notify and enforce the decree. He read the following statement:
“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.”
Although this order officially freed the 250,000 remaining slaves, the emancipation did not happen that day. According to Texas resident Charles Morgan, “The way it was explained to me, the 19th of June wasn’t the exact day the Negro was freed. But that’s the day they told that they was free.”
Many slave owners withheld the information from their slaves until after harvest season. Others killed and beat slaves that tried to leave immediately. Some slaves continued to work for their masters for years after the declaration was enforced due to forced actions or the inability to adjust to free life.
Still, this day was regarded as a day of celebration. Freed slaves left Texas to reconnect with families and find new lives. Juneteenth became a day of remembrance, prayer, and family bonding.
Juneteenth was established as an official state holiday in Texas on January 1, 1980. It was the first emancipation celebration to be given state recognition. 41 other states and the District of Columbia have also recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday.
Although Juneteenth is still not recognized as a formal national holiday, it is recognized all over the United States as a day of celebration and remembrance of the freedom and achievements of African Americans.
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