Today is Monday, June 20th, 2022. On this day, America will observe Juneteenth as a federally recognized holiday for the second year in our nation's history. But for millions of Americans, this holiday has been an integral part of celebrating freedom and independence long before it was federally acknowledged. This commemorative holiday is a reminder that not only did our ancestors fight foreign powers to earn our freedom; we had to fight ourselves. And in quite possibly the greatest understatement in our nation's history, it was NOT without sacrifice, violence, and resistance.
Many Americans have only recently become aware of Juneteenth, and may not know the historical significance of this holiday. So: what is Juneteenth?
After the conclusion of the Civil War, president Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order officially named Proclamation 35. This has become known today as the Emancipation Proclamation, which outlawed the practice of slavery within the rebelling confederate states of the war. This became a ratified amendment to the US Constitution in 1884, roughly 1 year after the proclamation. While this was a legislative victory for millions, it was still simply legislation. Enforcement of the law was slow-moving, and in some cases even resisted. Besides, the Emancipation Proclamation made no mention of outlawing slavery in territories that were not currently involved in the rebellion. So, in the 'western' areas of the south such as Texas, slavery still existed in certain areas well beyond the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was not until General Order No. 3 was announced by Union General Gordon Granger in Texas that the Thirteenth Amendment had effectively reached all corners of the country. It was at this moment, on June 19th, 1865, that the message of freedom had been delivered to the entirety of the country.
"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free." - General Gordon Granger, General Order No. 3
Often times in life, it is our own hesitation, greed, and ignorance that limits us. Although America had broken free from the tyranny of the British Empire, we experienced self-inflicted pain & injustice for over a hundred years in the form of slavery. Juneteenth marks the first effective bandage we applied to stop the bleeding. It signifies the importance of not only promising freedom, but delivering it everywhere. From that point on, the fight for civil liberties for all Americans has persisted to this day. It is imperative to remember the steps we took to get here, lest we stray from the path.
Resources & Further Reading
- History.com - What is Juneteenth?
- Whitehouse.gov - A Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observance, 2021
- Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture - The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth