The Joy in Juneteenth

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In the 1860s, news traveled slowly. There was no Twitter, no 24-hour cable news, no talk radio. For many enslaved people on the Western Frontier, news of their emancipation arrived months late.

The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 officially outlawed slavery in Texas, but its effectiveness reached only as far as Union soldiers could advance.


By KEARA VICKERS, Georgia Public Policy Foundation


<b>Keara Vickers</b>
Keara Vickers

After the April 1865 surrender at Appomattox, it took Union soldiers almost two months to travel to Galveston, Texas, where Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger announced General Order 3 on June 19, 1865, officially ending slavery in the state.

This week, (on June 15) almost 156 years later, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Many received the breaking news alert almost immediately, as a push notification on their iPhone.

Within a day, the U.S. House would also pass this legislation, and it received President Biden’s signature Thursday. Juneteenth is now one of 12 official federal holidays.

In the nearly 160 years since emancipation, much has been done and undone in the enduring quest for a more perfect union. This week’s action to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday goes beyond a simple symbolic gesture: It’s a measure bringing us closer to that ideal union and official recognition that the freedom enshrined in our Constitution has not always belonged to all of our brothers and sisters.

Juneteenth has been celebrated, in some form or another, since the late 1800s. Originally started as small, church-centered community celebrations, Juneteenth saw a rapid rise in popularity throughout the 1920s and ’30s, and the civil rights movement of the ’60s and ’70s reframed Juneteenth as a celebration of freedom and the arts.

Texas was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1970, and today all but three states have some official recognition. It’s by no means a “new” holiday, but it is one that many of us will participate in for the first time as it joins the list of official federal holidays.

Regardless of how much you may or may not know about Juneteenth, any freedom-minded American should find joy in a day officially dedicated to commemorating the liberation of a people from slavery. There is nothing so profoundly, so quintessentially American, as the celebration of obtaining freedom.

But that celebration comes with a responsibility to protect and advance that freedom. The recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday does not address the regulatory and structural barriers that many Black Americans face. There is still much work to be done toward advancing meaningful criminal justice reform, furthering access to options for education and righting historical problems in zoning and housing regulation.

These are just a few of the steps forward that we can take toward extending the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all of America’s citizens. Juneteenth is a celebration of how far we’ve come – and should be a somber reminder of how far we have yet to go.

This weekend is time for both reflection and rejoicing. It’s a time to celebrate progress made, opportunity shared and challenges conquered, as well as an opportunity to look forward to the road ahead and create an honest accounting of the ways we can join together to seek an ever more perfect, more equitable and more just union.

[Keara Vickers is the communications director at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Established in 1991, the Foundation is an independent resource for voters and elected officials. © Georgia Public Policy Foundation.]

3 COMMENTS

  1. The answer to your question is that Juneteenth is a Texas-born holiday. Juneteenth is one of several Jubilee celebrations across the American South which span from January to June. With Texas in particular, emancipation started within a week of the collapse of the Confederate government on June 2nd, and became de jure with the arrival of Union Forces on June 19th. Historically different communities celebrated their Jubilee’s on different days. So to denote all of the Jubilees in Texas alone, they simply referred to them as “Juneteenth”, because almost all of the dates were in the teens. And while other Jubilees fell out of observance, Texas being Texas only made their annual Juneteenth holiday bigger and better every year. After 60 years, it was practically a high holiday when at the outset of the Great Migration, black families carried the observance across the country.

    Juneteenth is America’s Second Independence Day. You don’t have to celebrate it, but you also don’t get to tell anyone they’re wrong for doing so.

  2. …P.S. the aforementioned date about hearing about the Proclamation is correct, but the celebration of June 19 (not sure what Juneteenth is) should be not recognized for the ending of slavery…but Dec. 6th 1865 should, as it outlawed slavery in ALL states. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in those southern states which were in Union control…and not all states were. Texas slaves were not “free” until the Union controlled Texas, as they had done with other states. Slaves in other states were already free by this time. So the national holiday is actually celebrating the freeing of slaves in Texas.

  3. Well your history is wrong. This date only marks the day that blacks in Texas had heard about the Proclamation freeing slaves in a few states only (the Confederate States…which were not even under the authority of the U.S. government). This meant that slavery remained legal in those slave states which had remained in the Union. This included the border states, such as Delaware, Kentucky, and Maryland, but also those northern “free states” which permitted slavery under certain circumstances.

    Slavery though was actually outlawed in many territories and states previously though, including the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 outlawed slavery in some northwest states and the importation of slaves into the U.S. was outlawed in 1808…signed Thomas Jefferson. There were many more laws outlawing slavery in territories and states through the decades…but all of this gets missed over the shouting of how racist the U.S. has always been.