Juneteenth — the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States — dates back to this day in 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
For those of you who were reading closely, June 19, 1865 is a full two and half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on New Year’s Day in 1863, and a couple of months after the end of the Civil War in the U.S. and Lincoln’s assassination. Juneteenth marks the official end of slavery.
Here’s what Juneteenth.com has to say about what happened when the news arrived in 1865 (the emphasis is theirs):
The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former ‘masters’ – attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territories. The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.
I’ve made the occasional mention of Juneteenth on this blog over the years, but it’s high time I gave the day its proper due. It’s right, it’s necessary, and it also paved the way for Asians like me to be classified as people and not as railroad equipment.
And while we’re at it, let’s make Juneteenth a national holiday! (Besides, how hardcore a racist do you have to be to not want a day off?)
Here’s some recommended Juneteenth viewing: