Newly freed black people celebrated it first in 1866 to commemorate liberation
As demonstrators across America fight to liberate black people, whether through calls to abolish the police or through legislative action against systemic racism, the country is getting ready to celebrate the 155th anniversary of one of its earliest liberation moments: Juneteenth.
A portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery. But, woefully, this was almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation; the Civil War was still going on, and when it ended, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger traveled to Texas and issued an order stating that all enslaved people were free, establishing a new relationship between “former masters and slaves” as “employer and hired labor.” As much as Juneteenth represents freedom, it also represents how emancipation was tragically delayed for enslaved people in the deepest reaches of the Confederacy.
Newly freed black people celebrated the first Juneteenth in 1866 to commemorate liberation — with food, singing, and the reading of spirituals — and take pride in their progress. But a century and a half later, Juneteenth is still not taught in most schools, nor is the event a federal holiday despite decades of pushing from activists. In 1980, Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth an official holiday. In 2020, Washington, D.C., and nearly every state recognize the day as a holiday or observance.
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