by Brianna Davis
A portmanteau of ‘June’ and ‘nineteenth’, Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in Texas on June 19th, and answers Frederick Douglass’ question to, “What to the (American) Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
On New Years Day of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s issued the Emancipation Proclamation which outlawed slavery in Texas and the other states under Confederate control. Outside of being the “right” thing to do, this act was mainly a strategic play to weaken the U.S. Southern economy by ordering an end to their most profitable assets— black enslaved people. Due to the combination of slow news travel, and the rebellious nature of Confederacy leaders, slave-owners, and officials— it wasn’t until two years later (and 2 months after the Civil War ended) on June 19th, 1865 when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his soldiers traveled to Texas to issue and reinforce the abolition order that would return a stolen birthright from enslaved African Americans throughout the state.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
— General Order, Number 3
Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865
One of Galveston’s most important historical moments, the physical document of General Order No. 3 is archived in Washington, D.C. is located in the National Archives Building and safeguarded by the Textual Records Division.
Slavery would continue in border states for another six months until the 13th Amendment was ratified (but the end of American slavery would not be the last barrier for Black people to overcome in the United States). ‘Jubilee Day’ or ‘Juneteenth’ was officially celebrated the next year in 1866, and commemorated as a freedom day, also known as ‘Emancipation Day’, across the nation as Black Texans migrated to other regions, making it one of the longest-running African American holidays known to exist. Festivities for Juneteenth have been celebrated with picnics, live entertainment, family cookouts, parades, and speeches.
The holiday’s flag features a red and blue banner with a pronounced white star in the middle, inspired by the U.S. and Lone Star State flags, as a reminder that slaves and their descendants were and are Americans. ON June 17th, 2021, Juneteenth is a federal holiday and officially recognized as Juneteenth National Independence Day.
Ways you can celebrate Juneteenth:
- Educate yourself and others on the history of Juneteenth. Acknowledge how the fight against slavery and systemic racism continues today, and discuss how more change can be accomplished for the better.
- Attend Juneteenth events in the DMV area, or prepare your own Juneteenth meal and binge African American content (“High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America” is the latest Netflix documentary exploring the history of Black American cuisines, the ties between soul food and other cultures in the African diaspora, and even dedicates an episode to Juneteenth).
- Support black-owned businesses and invest in your community through volunteer programs and youth-focused organizations.
- Encourage your workplace to commit to observing Juneteenth as a corporate holiday.