Juneteenth traces its roots to June 19, 1865, when United States Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, a full two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln. With General Order No. 3, Granger proclaimed that all slaves in Texas were free.
In the years following the initial announcement, Juneteenth became a time for African Americans to gather and celebrate their newfound freedom. These celebrations often included community gatherings, church services, parades, music, and speeches.
Juneteenth symbolized the end of slavery in the United States and was a reminder of the long struggle for freedom endured by enslaved African Americans. Juneteenth also signified the Post Civil War beginning of what was seen by many as a new era of equality and civil rights began to materialize for African Americans.
Despite being observed in African American communities for over a century, Juneteenth did not gain widespread recognition until recent years. Efforts to establish Juneteenth as a national holiday gained momentum in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, driven by activists, community organizations, and political leaders.
On June 19, 2021, Juneteenth took a significant step forward as the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. The bill was later signed into law by President Joe Biden, officially designating Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday. This historic decision acknowledged the importance of Juneteenth as a national commemoration and recognized the need to reckon with America’s complex history of slavery.
Juneteenth is also an appropriate time for all of us to acknowledge the insidious role that slavery played in the development of the United States, and of how the country still struggles with that reality. Furthermore, starting with the Reconstruction Acts that followed the Civil War and continuing up until the present, every time the United States has moved towards becoming a true egalitarian, multiracial, pluralistic democracy, reactionary forces rise to defend traditional hierarchies of race (and of gender, religion, and wealth). We’re amid one of those struggles now, and the outcome is far from certain.