Updated: Aug 19, 2022
“All persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of
a state … shall be then, henceforward, and forever free.”
President Abraham Lincoln
Emancipation Proclamation, 1863
Last year, President Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act establishing a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that the Union Army rode into Galveston, Texas and informed slaves of their emancipation. President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in January 1863, but a huge number of slaves were held in bondage in confederate states more than two years later. Enslaved persons in Texas were the last to gain their freedom. The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) describes as follows:
“Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by Executive decree. This day came to be known as ‘Juneteenth,’ by the newly freed people in Texas.”
See The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth | National Museum of African American History and Culture (si.edu). The Emancipation Proclamation freed more than 3.5 million enslaved persons in the confederate states.
Juneteenth celebrations first began in Texas in 1866, and became known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day. Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. explains the legacy of Juneteenth here: What is Juneteenth? | The Hutchins Center for African & African American Research (harvard.edu).
The Juneteenth celebration grew and spread among black communities across the country. The day had historically been celebrated with family gatherings and meals, but over time the holiday grew to be celebrated with parades, festivals, panel discussions, book readings, performances, and freedom walks. You can look online to see what is happening in your local community to celebrate Juneteenth.
If you want to read about the history of Juneteenth, check out the suggestions of the NMAAHC, which lists books by black authors on Juneteenth and the history of slavery, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. Juneteenth Reading List | National Museum of African American History and Culture (si.edu). The list includes: “On Juneteenth”, by Annette Gordon Reed, and “Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery”, by Barbara Krauthamer and Deborah Willis. In addition, there are children’s books on Juneteenth by black authors:
· “Juneteenth for Mazie”, by Floyd Cooper
· “Opal Lee and What It Means To Be Free”, by Alice Fay Duncan and Artwork by Keturah A. Bobo
· “The History of Juneteenth: A History Book for New Readers”, by Arlisha Norwood
· “All Different Now: Juneteeth, The First Day of Freedom,” by Angela Johnson and Artwork by E.B. Lewis
· “Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem”, by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle and Artwork by Alec Bostic
· “Juneteenth Jamboree”, by Carol Boston Weatherford and Artwork by Yvonne Buchanan
Finally, there's a recently published Juneteenth cookbook that looks fabulous: "Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations" by Nicole A. Taylor.
Enjoy your Juneteenth holiday!