Kristen Kennedy, Writer

When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he declared the freedom of all enslaved people. However, the technicalities of the situation made it kind of meaningless in a legal sense. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to the southern states which were actively rebelling and had already seceded in the Civil War. Since they were no longer part of the Union, the federal government had no jurisdiction over them. His declaration also did not apply to the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland, because he feared that outlawing slavery would make them join the Confederacy. The emancipation depended on the advancement of Union troops into the South to enforce it. Despite the fact that it freed zero slaves initially, it did transform the character of the war and inspire African Americans to fight for freedom. While this event provides some context, it is actually the event that occurred two years later that will be celebrated this month: June 19th, or Juneteenth.

Juneteenth commemorates the anniversary June 19th, 1865, when Union Army General Gordon Granger went to Galveston, Texas, to announce the freedom of all slaves in Texas. This followed the surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee at Appomattox in Virginia which happened about two months prior. Granger’s announcement essentially put Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation into effect.

The Juneteenth Memorial Sculpture Monument at The George Washington Carver Museum in Austin, Texas, opened to the public June 27, 2015. It is made up of five bronze figures that represent the story of Juneteeth and a paved timeline of the Black Presence in the Americas—from the Middle Passage to the Emancipation Proclamation that leads to the Bell of Freedom. (Wikimedia Commons)

The original celebration became annual and increased in 1872 when a group of African Americans purchased ten acres of land known as Emancipation Park to hold the annual celebration in Houston. Today, it is celebrated in families across the nation, and with larger parties or parades in cities like Atlanta or Washington D.C.

In 1980, Texas made June 19th an official state holiday. While it is not yet a national holiday, it has made its way onto the calendar of every Apple product user, and it has certainly gained popularity in areas of the country. This June 19th, you can show your enthusiasm for the day by ordering from a black-owned restaurant, educate yourself, or just celebrate with family and friends.

Postscript: On June 17, 2021, President Joseph Biden signed a bill into law that makes Juneteenth a Federal Holiday. Federal workers this year observed the holiday on Friday, June 18th, as Juneteenth this year fell on a Saturday. The Washington Post covered the signing ceremony and detailed that the president, “spoke of efforts in some states to restrict voting rights, said the date doesn’t just celebrate the past but is a call for action”.