Though it’s very much in the public consciousness this year, Juneteenth is not a new concept. The day commemorates the end of the Civil War and the freeing of enslaved black people throughout the Confederacy, and it has been celebrated for generations. Juneteenth is also not a “black holiday,” but an American holiday. Increasingly, corporations are now recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday and giving their employees the day off. Efforts are underway to have it declared a official federal holiday as well.
So, what is Juneteenth?
The video above will give you a brief history of Juneteeth in two minutes. But in short, the day commemorates the events of June 19, 1865, when enslaved black people in Galveston, Texas were informed by Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger that they were free. Although this is the date we celebrate, it is important to note that enslaved black people had already been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863—two and a half years prior.
The Emancipation Proclamation did not outlaw slavery in all states, just the Confederate ones. Some Union states—like Kentucky and Delaware—still had legal slavery until December of that year. Also, the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution still does not completely abolish slavery, because it is still allowed as punishment for a crime.
The General Order Number 3 that was read aloud by Major General Gordon Granger on that day in 1865 read:
“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
Juneteenth became an occasion for to rejoicing and connecting with the history of enslaved black people—those who survived and those who did not. Today, food, fun and fashion are all incorporated in the celebratory acts of Juneteenth, as slaves were always given the worst scraps of food, were not allowed many moments to celebrate and were outlawed from wearing certain garments and dressing in certain ways.
Whether Juneteenth is a familiar fixture on your calendar or this is the first time you’ve really been aware of it, make it a point to educate yourselves on the meaning behind it. It should never be looked at as just another day off of work.