(Gray News) – June 19 may seem like just another Wednesday to you, but 154 years ago, it was a reason to rejoice for an entire race of people.
On June 19, 1865, Juneteenth was born. It’s the day the United States, still fractured from the Civil War, liberated the last of the slaves and put the inhumane practice in the past.
Major Gen. Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas and told the locals the war had ended, the Union’s forces had prevailed and that all slaves 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,” Granger said. “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 free laborer.”
Although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had been signed for more than two years, there was no one to enforce the executive order throughout the slave states until the Union soldiers arrived.
Also, news simply didn’t travel fast in those days. Even after Granger arrived, a lot of slave owners in other parts of Texas didn’t release their slaves until after harvest later that year, according to the History Channel.
The newly freed slaves were understandably ecstatic. Celebrations broke out across the state.
As the plantations emptied and the former free labor force scattered to other areas of the country, they carried with them the tradition of the Juneteenth celebration.
African-American communities mark Juneteenth each year with barbecues, music, prayer, reunions, and pilgrimages back to Galveston.
As slavery moved further into the past and economic and political struggles began to take their toll, the celebrations of Juneteenth grew smaller. Even so, it gained new life during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and continues to grow in popularity today.
It largely lives on as a cultural observance, but there are pushes to make it a national holiday.
In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday.
Although it’s most commonly still celebrated in Texas, most states hold observances today.
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