What is Juneteenth? | Explained



‘Juneteenth’ is being marked today in the United States, but its significance isn't covered much here in the UK, so what is Juneteenth and why has it recently been made a national holiday?

What is it

Juneteenth commemorates 19 June 1865, when Major-General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with 2000 Union troops to announce that the civil war had ended. This meant around 250,000 slaves in the state were now free.

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 labour. 

General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

This was 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln's original emancipation proclamation which was issued on 1 January 1863. Lincoln had declared that enslaved people in the seceded Confederate states (which included Texas) were to be "forever free". 

There have been several put forward for the delay. These mainly focus on the slow travel of news but also include findings that suggest that some slave owners knew but intentionally withheld the news. 

As Dahleen Blanton of the Favetteville Observer notes, It would be inaccurate to suggest that developments on Juneteenth brought an end to slavery it continued in some border states which were not part of the confederacy. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation intentionally did not include these border states (Kentucky, Delaware, Missouri and Kentucky) as he feared that doing so could provoke them into joining the already seceded confederate states.

"Juneteenth does not represent the end of slavery in America, as it is often erroneously reported. It specifically notes the end of slavery in Texas. Slavery continued to thrive in several border states that were not are by the Emancipation Proclamation. Delaware was the last to free its nearly 2,000 slaves on Dec 6, 1865, six months after Texas.

Dec. 6 would be the most accurate date to celebrate the end of slavery. That's when the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865, officially abolishing slavery throughout the United States. Every state was then required by federal law to free its slaves."

There is also the fact that the legal abolition of slavery did not dismantle the vicious racial hierarchy upheld by black codes and the Jim crow laws, nor did it prevent 'slave centres' in the south from being systematically propped up by the judicial system into the 20th century.

The vast majority of states have observed Juneteenth with a state holiday over the years, but on Thursday, President Biden signed a new bill into law that established Juneteenth as a federal holiday - only the 12th in the country's calendar.

Mayowa Ayodele


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