Friday, June 21, 2024

How Juneteenth Slipped By Unrecognized By Most of the Country

*June 19, 1865 marks the day that every last enslaved Black American was set free. But why does it come some two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863? Black Enterprise commemorates June 19th, aka “Juneteenth,” by looking back at how the day came to be, and why Black folks outside of Texas and neighboring Southern states knew nothing about it for decades.

Toward the end of the Civil war, the Emancipation Proclamation was the official decree from President Abraham Lincoln that stated all enslaved people in Southern states of the Confederacy were free. However, emancipation came at different times in different states.

As BE notes, the Emancipation Proclamation “only applied to states that seceded from the United States, leaving border states unaffected. It also failed to impact Southern secessionist states already under Northern control. The Emancipation Proclamation was, at its core, a war measure to ensure the Confederacy’s readmission into the Union. Its implementation was to force the Confederacy’s hand and liberate those enslaved in the region. The Union had to win the Civil War to enforce the total abolishment of slavery.”

But on June 19, 1865, two years and six months after the Emancipation Proclamation was declared, Union soldiers “marched into Galveston Bay in Confederate-controlled Texas, announcing their victory and enforcing the manumission of over 200,000 enslaved people, freeing them from subjugation. Juneteenth was born.”

The word “Juneteenth,” a blend of June and nineteenth, was first celebrated in Texas in 1866, one year after the complete abolition of slavery. According to BE, many newly-freed Texans focused on finding long-lost relatives and improving their quality of life. “To observe the shift in tide, they held prayer meetings, sang spirituals, and donned new clothes to signify their newfound liberation,” notes BE. Some marked the end of slavery with new traditions, like rodeos and horseback riding. The annual celebrations, which evolved into “religious services, speeches, educational events, music and food festivals,” eventually spread to bordering states like Mississippi and Louisiana. 

Meanwhile, many African Americans without ties to Texas or its neighboring states had no awareness of Juneteenth. It was not a formally recognized holiday by Texas until 1980, and the day was first recognized as a federal holiday in 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law after the efforts of Lula Briggs Galloway, Opal Lee, and others.

Watch a video explainer of Juneteenth below:

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