June 19th, 1865 is widely regarded as the day that all slaves in America were freed. Two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which declared freedom for all enslaved persons in states rebelling against the Union, the news finally reached Texas. The Civil War was almost over and the Lincoln’s Proclamation had spread and been enforced across the rest of the South, freeing slaves as Union armies took control over Confederate territories.
Even after this date, many slaves may not have been informed of their freedom or allowed to embrace their new legal rights. Slavery also persisted in other parts of the United States, including border states that hadn’t been included as part of the Emancipation Proclamation. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing slavery was ratified on December 6, 1865, officially banning slavery in all parts of the U.S. Still, the date that Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and read General Order Number 3, declaring freedom for the slaves of the last Confederate state, is celebrated as Juneteenth. The holiday’s name is an amalgamation of the month and date.
Texans began to celebrate Juneteenth as a local Emancipation Day in 1866, and every year the celebration grew. Eventually it spread to other parts of the country as well. Texas, fittingly, became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday in 1979, and today over 40 states recognize the day officially. There are even efforts to see Juneteenth recognized nationally. The date has also been called America’s second Independence Day, as it recognizes liberty and freedom for all Americans. Here’s how you can celebrate Juneteenth this year!
Honor the History
Take time to research and remember the history of slavery and the social, political, cultural, and economic implications that persist in many ways even today. It’s important to recognize those who have suffered and to remember that freedom, liberty, and equality weren’t always afforded to all Americans.
Talk with your families and friends about Juneteenth and the significance of the celebration. Read the Emancipation Proclamation and General Order Number 3 and acknowledge the historical figures who worked to emancipate American slaves. Discuss ways you can promote awareness and work for freedom and equality in your everyday lives.
Celebrate with the Community
Many local towns, businesses, museums, historical associations and other community groups host events specifically in honor of Juneteenth. You can look for events here, or check specifically with your local community to find a way to take part.
You can also host your own celebration and invite friends, family, and neighbors to take part! Plan a special meal for your family, organize a potluck at work, or set up a barbeque out in the backyard. Juneteenth is a perfect summertime celebration.
Various activities have been incorporated into Juneteenth celebrations over the years. Often festivities focus on education and self-improvement and may include inspirational guest speakers, community elders, or religious or spiritual ceremonies. The Emancipation Proclamation has also been read during these events to honor President Lincoln and the document that granted freedom and rights African Americans across the South.
Barbecuing would have been popular among emancipated African Americans, and it is often the center of Juneteenth celebrations. Traditionally, food is plentiful, and strawberry soda is a popular drink. Getting dressed up for the day was also important because there had been strict laws in some places limiting what slaves were permitted to wear.
Happy Juneteenth! However you choose to celebrate, be sure to recognize this holiday’s history and acknowledge the importance of liberty in the United States.