By: David M. Higgins II, Publisher
Today, across The United States of America, Juneteenth Day is being celebrated. However, until very recently many outside of the African-American community did not know about or understand it. Recent events including the killing of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, and several others have put an emphasis on race relations in the country, thus bringing Juneteenth Day to the forefront. But what exactly is Juneteenth Day?
As of right now, it is an unofficial US Holiday(but gaining steam) and an official holiday in Texas. Sometimes referred to as Jubliee Day, Freedom Day, or Liberation Day, Juneteenth Day celebrates Union army general Gordon Granger announcing federal orders in the city of Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, proclaiming that all slaves in Texas were now free. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had formally freed them almost two and a half years earlier and the American Civil War had largely ended with the defeat of the Confederate States in April, Texas was the most remote of the slave states, with a low presence of Union troops, so enforcement of the proclamation had been slow and inconsistent.
A noted misconception of Juneteenth day is that it celebrates the end of slavery in the USA. Although it marks the emancipation of slaves in the Confederacy, slavery was still legal and existed in Union border states after June 19, 1865. It did not officially become illegal, and thus end until the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified by the States’ on December 13, 1865. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in all US States and Territories.
Celebrations date to 1866, at first involving church-centered community gatherings in Texas. It spread across the South and became more commercialized in the 1920s and 1930s, often centering on a food festival. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, it was eclipsed by the struggle for postwar civil rights but grew in popularity again in the 1970s with a focus on African American freedom and arts. By the 21st century, Juneteenth was celebrated in most major cities across the United States. Activists are campaigning for the United States Congress to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday. Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in 49 of the 50 U.S. states.
In 1996 the first legislation to recognize “Juneteenth Independence Day” was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.J. Res. 195, sponsored by Barbara-Rose Collins (D-MI). In 1997 Congress recognized the day through Senate Joint Resolution 11 and House Joint Resolution 56. In 2013 the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 175, acknowledging Lula Briggs Galloway (late president of the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage) who “successfully worked to bring national recognition to Juneteenth Independence Day”, and the continued leadership of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.
In 2020, state governors of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York signed an executive order recognizing Juneteenth as a paid day of leave for state employees. Several American corporations including Twitter, the National Football League, Harvard University, and Nike announced that they would treat Juneteenth as a company holiday, providing a paid day off to their workers, and Google Calendar added Juneteenth to its US Holidays calendar.
Via Governor Larry Hogan’s Facebook Page:
I have issued a proclamation recognizing Juneteenth in Maryland to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and celebrate the triumph of the human spirit over the cruelty of slavery. We are reminded of heroes like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, whose legacies are permanently enshrined in the history of our state. May we continue working to realize the vision that they and so many other freedom fighters had for Maryland and for our nation. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan