Feminist Book Club blog contributors are working together to create posts as an “Educate & Activate” series. We will define a term or movement, provide historical context, and give you additional resources to learn more. We believe that an educated populace can be better activists, accomplices and co-conspirators. It is important to note that these are meant to be brief descriptions and not inclusive or exhaustive of all resources. We urge you to continue being curious, and continue learning more.
Juneteenth, a combination of June and nineteenth is the date when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. The troops arrived two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. Marking an end to slavery, Juneteenth is considered the longest-running African American holiday.
There does not seem to be actual documentation of the first time Juneteenth was used. However, by the 1890s, Jubilee Day, as June 19th was formerly called, became Juneteenth. It has also been referred to as Emancipation Day, Black Independence Day, and Freedom Day.
The Emancipation Proclamation, on January 1, 1863, announced that slaves “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” However, this did not immediately take place as the Proclamation applied only to the states under Confederate control. Many slaves fled behind Union lines as Northern troops advanced into the Confederate South.
Texas was seen as a safe haven for slave owners as there was no “no large-scale fighting or a significant presence of Union troops.” The American Civil War ended in April 1865 when Confederate Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. June 1865 indicated freedom for the state’s 250,000 slaves when the war ended and General Granger arrived in Galveston. Emancipation didn’t happen overnight as some slave-owners withheld this information until the end of the harvest season. The newly freed Black people celebrated and Juneteenth was created. Slavery in the US was officially abolished in December 1865 when the 13th Amendment was adopted. The freedmen in Texas organized the first annual celebration of “Jubilee Day” on June 19.
Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday in 1979. Although efforts to make Juneteenth a national holiday has been delayed in Congress, 47 states still recognize it as a state holiday. Today Juneteenth commemorates African-American culture, achievements, and food while also respecting the historical moment. It is celebrated by festivals, cookouts, parades, picnics, readings, and vigils. Juneteenth is significant today following the recent killings and the protests whereby it has reenergized the Black Lives Matter movement.
Resources for Further Education
Juneteenth: A Celebration of Resilience (online event happening all day!)