By Kelly Sargent
Perhaps you've heard of Juneteenth, but like a large swath of the citizenry, you may not know much about it. Here's a primer.
Juneteenth is an unofficial — and in some states an official American holiday observed on June 19. Also called Liberation Day, Black Independence Day, Freedom Day, and Jubilee Day, it commemorates the 1865 adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation in the last remaining state to which President Abraham Lincoln's proclamation and executive order applied.
Although President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 declaring slaves free people, it didn't actually end slavery since it only applied to the 11 states at war with the Union. As the most remote of the Confederate states with only a small presence of Union troops, Texas simply chose to ignore it.
Lincoln recognized that it would require amending the US Constitution to abolish slavery and permanently emancipate the millions of men, women and children enslaved in America, and worked toward that end. In April of 1864 the US Senate passed a proposed Constitutional amendment banning slavery, but it languished in the House of Representatives. Nine months later the House barely passed the amendment with the required two-thirds majority, and the next day, Lincoln approved a joint resolution of Congress submitting it to the state legislatures for ratification.
Meanwhile, in spite of General Robert E. Lee's surrender of his Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, the Civil War wasn't over. Other contingencies of Confederate troops remained active including Colonel Rip Ford in Texas, and the necessary number of states had yet to ratify the 13th Amendment.
Juneteenth, marks the day that Union Army Major General Gordon Granger asserted Union authority and read an official order in Galveston, stating in part: “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."
The first celebration of Juneteenth took place the following year, 1866. What began as local church gatherings evolved into larger community events that spread across Texas and throughout the South. Juneteenth is now celebrated in most major US cities, and 48 of the 50 states recognize it in some way, but only Texas has designated it as a state holiday . . . so far.
Yesterday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order making it a paid holiday for state workers, and an ongoing campaign to declare Juneteenth a Federal holiday has recently gained renewed momentum.
Happy Juneteenth everyone. Black lives matter.
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