Juneteenth Trail Walk
Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the confederacy. Deriving its name from combining "June" and "nineteenth", it is celebrated on the anniversary of General Order No. 3, issued by Major General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865, proclaiming freedom for slaves in Texas.
The U.S. Civil War began in 1861 because of tensions between the northern and southern states over slavery, states’ rights, and western expansion. It was the costliest and deadliest war ever fought on American soil. President Lincoln issued a proclamation to revolting states to return to the Union within a year, otherwise, their slaves would be declared free. After a year, and no response, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
The Emancipation Proclamation freed more than 3 million slaves living in the Confederacy and allowed the north to recruit nearly 180,000 Black soldiers. In a letter to his friend, “James C. Conkling, Lincoln said that the “emancipation policy, and the use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion.”
While the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Confederacy, it did not apply to loyal border states and southern states under northern control. Enslaved people in Texas did not learn of their freedom until two years later, on June 19,1865, when union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas. Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced after General Order No. 3. One year later, on June 19, 1866, freedmen in Texas organized the first of what became annual commemorations of "Jubilee Day."
While the Emancipation Proclamation was a deathblow to slavery in the U.S., the end of slavery was not official until the ratification of the 13th amendment on December 6, 1865.
In southern states, Black people’s rights were taken away through Black Codes and, later, Jim Crow Laws. In the north, redlining was used to restrict movement into certain areas.
Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws barred Black people from using public parks, libraries, and public and private facilities were segregated. From 1890 to 1908, Texas and all former Confederate states passed new constitutions or amendments that effectively disenfranchised Black people, excluding them from the political process.
Across parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land to host their celebrations. Early celebrations involved church-centered community gatherings in Texas. They spread across the South and became more commercialized, often centering on a food festivals.
Celebratory traditions often include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation and works by noted African-American writers. In addition, they sang spirituals and the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing."
In the early 20th century, economic. political forces, and discriminatory policies, led to a decline in Juneteenth celebrations. The Great Depression forced many Black people off farms and into the cities to find work, where they had difficulty taking the day off to celebrate.
From 1936 to 1951, the Texas State Fair served as a destination for celebrating the holiday, contributing to its revival.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, these celebrations were paused, but grew in popularity again in the 1970s with a focus on African American freedom and African-American arts.
Since the 1980s, the holiday has been more widely celebrated among African American communities and has seen increasing mainstream attention in the US.
Road to Legislation
In 1996, the first federal legislation to recognize "Juneteenth Independence Day" was introduced U.S. Representative Barbara-Rose Collins (D-MI).
In the 2000s and 2010s, activists continued a long process to push Congress towards official recognition of Juneteenth. In 2016, Opal Lee, often referred to as the "grandmother of Juneteenth", began a walk from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington D.C. to advocate for a federal holiday.
In 2020, several American corporations (i.e. Twitter, National Football League, etc.) and educational institutions began treating Juneteenth as a company holiday, providing a paid day off to their workers, and Google Calendar added Juneteenth to its U.S. Holidays calendar.
Federal and State Holidays
Spurred on by the advocates and the Congressional Black Caucus, on June 15, 2021, the Senate unanimously passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday; it subsequently passed through the House of Representatives by a 415–14 vote on June 16.
President Joe Biden signed the bill on June 17, 2021, making Juneteenth the eleventh American federal holiday and the first to obtain legal observance as a federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was designated in 1983.
In 2023, the Minnesota Legislature passed Juneteenth as a state holiday that will be recognized on June 19 each year.
Juneteenth commemorates hope that we will become a nation where there is freedom and justice for all. The day emphasizes education and achievement and is a time for reflection and rejoicing.
According to Juneteenth.com, “…In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.”