What is Juneteenth?
President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation into effect January 1, 1863 but it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that word reached the slaves in Texas, the last slaves in America, that they were free.
There are three likely explanations as to why it was much later when the African Americans were told. One reason is the messenger was murdered on his way to Texas with the news. Another was that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on their plantations. The last is that federal troops waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.
Although the definite reason for the two-and-a-half-year wait is unknown, this day holds great importance.
With the declaration of freedom also came General Order Number 3. This order stated that master/slave relationships were to transform into employer/hired laborer relationships. Many stayed where they were to learn more about the employer/employee relationships, but some left soon after the news of freedom.
It was a day of celebration and involved bringing families together. Many celebrated this day with rodeos, fishing, barbecuing and baseball activities. When the celebrations started, clothing was an important element, many of them dressing in fancier clothing, like that of their former masters.
For those who decided to stay on the plantations, most were allowed June 19th as a day off from work. During the early 1900s, the celebrations dwindled as the Depression forced many people off the farms and into the cities to find work. Employers were less likely to grant the day off, so unless the day fell on a weekend or other holiday, they didn’t have the availability to celebrate. It did grow in momentum during the 1950’s and 60s as people pushed for racial equality and wanted to remember their ancestry.
The day was celebrated for over a hundred years before it was made an official holiday. The first state to do so was Texas in 1979, and since then, 41 other states and the District of Columbia have recognized this day as a holiday or holiday observance.
Juneteenth today celebrates African American freedom and achievement. New organizations have banded with older organizations to promote and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of all African American history and culture.