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Kenneth C. Davis Headshot

Happy Juneteenth Celebrating the End of Slavery

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Happy Juneteenth! Since 1865, June 19th has served as another kind of Independence Day. It is a day that celebrates the end of slavery in America.

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger informed former slaves in the area from the Gulf of Mexico to Galveston, Texas that they were free. Abraham Lincoln had officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but it had taken two more years of Union victories to end the war and for this news to reach slaves in remote sections of the country. The words "June" and "Nineteenth" were merged too create "Juneteenth."

This is from General Granger's Order No. 3:

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.

Many of the newly freed slaves in the territory, the last area to receive news of the war's end and Emancipation, celebrated the news with ecstasy, Other freed slaves began to travel to northern states in search of family members who had been separated from them by slave sales.
Starting in 1866, that spontaneous celebration -- commonly called "Juneteenth" -- began to spread and according to the Texas State Library,

In many parts of Texas, ex-slaves purchased land, or "emancipation grounds," for the Juneteenth gathering. Examples include: Emancipation Park in Houston, purchased in 1872; what is now Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia; and Emancipation park in East Austin.

Over the years, Juneteenth has become a holiday celebrating emancipation in many parts of the United States, although it still lacks national recognition.

On June 18th, 2009. the U.S.. Senate issued a resolution, apologizing for slavery. (The resolution also carried a disclaimer stating, "Nothing in the resolution authorizes or supports reparations for slavery.") The resolution moved to the House, where a similar resolution has passed, although without mention of reparations. I'll be following this story to report on a final Congressional resolution on the slavery apology.

I would like to add my name to the list of people who want to make June 19 a new national holiday in honor of "Juneteenth," a holiday or "state observance" already recognized in 31 states. We could all use another holiday. The gap between Memorial Day and July 4th is too long. This celebration of freedom is a perfect reason!