This date—June 19th—serves as a special opportunity to recognize, learn, educate, mourn, hope, rally and push reform as America observes Juneteenth. This date was chosen for an annual observance because of the historical importance of June 19, 1865, in the United States’ journey to making one of its founding principles “All men are created equal.”
Emancipation Proclamation – 1862
President Abraham Lincoln signed the initial Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, which set forth January 1, 1863, as the date when all enslaved people in states rebelling against the Union would be freed.
Lincoln and other Union officials made a huge impact. First, it served as an announcement that freedom for enslaved people was one of the Union Army’s aims. Second, nations that had been considering supporting the Confederacy to expand their influence in the states changed their minds, because they were strongly opposed to slavery. The preliminary Emancipation Proclamation paved the way for the eventual abolition of slavery in the nation.
13th Amendment – 1865
To move toward freeing enslaved people, Lincoln and his colleagues worked to incorporate a Constitutional Amendment to abolish slavery. The 13th Amendment was passed by Congress in January 1865 and ratified in December, officially freeing slaves in the country.
Juneteenth is the remembrance of the Emancipation Proclamation and ensuing enacting of the 13th Amendment not because it was the date it was signed or ratified, but because June 19, 1865, was the date when troops arrived in Texas to assume control of the former Confederate State and make sure slaveholders were following the orders put forth in the Emancipation Proclamation. The war had come to an end two months earlier, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered in Virginia, so slaves in Texas were to be free as of January 1863.
Freedom – 1865
Decorated Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 other federal troops arrived in Galveston, TX, on June 19, 1865. That day, 250,000 liberated slaves in that state became aware that they had been freed, and they were astonished, elated, relieved. They celebrated with joyful singing and dancing, gathering with their fellow freed men and women.
June 19, 1865, became the first annual celebration of Juneteenth, a day of joy and remembrance among those who found themselves newly freed and those who supported the abolition of slavery. The next year, freed citizens of Texas held the first “Jubilee Day” on June 19th.
Independence Day – 1997
The first federal legislation to recognize “Juneteenth Independence Day” was introduced in the US House in 1996 and in 1997, the House and Senate adopted the bill, officially recognizing Juneteenth Independence Day. “Juneteenth celebrations have thus been held for 130 years to honor the memory of all those who endured slavery and especially those who moved from slavery to freedom,” the Joint Resolution reads, “and their example of faith and strength of character remains a lesson for all Americans today, regardless of background or region or race.”
Juneteenth as a Federal Holiday
On Sunday, June 19, Americans will observe the nation’s youngest federal holiday – Juneteenth, which became officially recognized last year by President Joe Biden.
Juneteenth came to national prominence in 2020 amid nationwide protests after Minneapolis, Minnesota man George Floyd and Louisville, Kentucky woman Breonna Taylor were killed during encounters with law enforcement. Both Floyd and Taylor were Black. Their deaths spotlighted ongoing racial inequities in the justice system as well as the legacy of slavery in encounters between Black people and the police.
Across the country 47 states have authorized Juneteenth as a holiday and celebration for all in their states.