Slavery in the United States can be traced back to the 16th century when Spanish explorers brought Black Africans with them to the New World to work as slave labor. It lasted until the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect on January 1, 1863, under executive decree issued by President Abraham Lincoln. On that date, Texas was largely controlled by forces fighting for the Confederate states, which opposed the abolition of slavery.
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, is a holiday or observance in many U.S. states to celebrate the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865. The observance commemorates the day on which Union soldiers, led by General Granger, enforced the Emancipation Proclamation and freed all remaining slaves in Texas. The news was delivered two and a half years after the executive order was effective.
When Union soldiers arrived to take control of Texas and enforce the emancipation of slaves in the state, one of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Galveston, Texas, General Order Number 3, which began most significantly with:
"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 free laborer."
In Galveston, Texas, the newly freed slaves held large public celebrations and so laid the base for future Juneteenth activities. The word 'Juneteenth' resulted from the words 'June Nineteenth' being slurred together in speech. After 1865, Juneteenth was mainly celebrated in Texas. Parks have been established on land bought by former slaves to hold Juneteenth celebrations in the Texan cities of Austin, Houston and Mexia. However, it is now a state holiday or observance in nearly all 50 U.S. states. Juneteenth celebrations are also held in other countries around the world, including Ghana, Honduras, Japan, Taiwan and Trinidad and Tobago.
The colors of the Juneteenth flag are red, white, and blue, which are the same as the United States’ flag. It is a reminder that the formerly enslaved Black people and their descendants were, and are Americans, too.
The white star in the middle represents Texas, known as The Lone Star State. The star also represents the freedom of African Americans in all 50 states. The bursting outline around the star represents a new beginning for the African Americans of Galveston and throughout the land. The arc or curve that extends across the width of the flag represents a new horizon and the opportunities and promise that lay ahead for Black Americans. Finally, the date on the flag, June 19, 1865, represents the day that enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, became Americans under the law.
Juneteenth celebrations include large homecooked meals with red foods as the foundation of the tradition, as Big Red or Strawberry soda, watermelon, and red velvet cake. The color red symbolizes the blood of our ancestors that was shed during their struggle through slavery and their transition to freedom, and the resiliency of Black people in America.
Here is the wording of the proclamation issued by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., declaring Juneteenth as the 12th federal holiday.
A Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observance, 2021
June 18, 2021
On June 19, 1865 — nearly nine decades after our Nation’s founding, and more than 2 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received word that they were free from bondage. As those who were formerly enslaved were recognized for the first time as citizens, Black Americans came to commemorate Juneteenth with celebrations across the country, building new lives and a new tradition that we honor today. In its celebration of freedom, Juneteenth is a day that should be recognized by all Americans. And that is why I am proud to have consecrated Juneteenth as our newest national holiday
Juneteenth is a day of profound weight and power.
A day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country –- what I’ve long called America’s original sin. A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity.
But it is a day that also reminds us of our incredible capacity to heal, hope, and emerge from our darkest moments with purpose and resolve.
As I said on the 100th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, great nations don’t ignore the most painful chapters of their past. Great nations confront them. We come to terms with them.
On Juneteenth, we recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice. And, we celebrate the centuries of struggle, courage, and hope that have brought us to this time of progress and possibility. That work has been led throughout our history by abolitionists and educators, civil rights advocates and lawyers, courageous activists and trade unionists, public officials, and everyday Americans who have helped make real the ideals of our founding documents for all.
There is still more work to do. As we emerge from the long, dark winter of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, racial equity remains at the heart of our efforts to vaccinate the Nation and beat the virus. We must recognize that Black Americans, among other people of color, have shouldered a disproportionate burden of loss — while also carrying us through disproportionately as essential workers and health care providers on the front lines of the crisis.
Psalm 30 proclaims that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and discrimination, and the promise of a brighter morning to come. My Administration is committed to building an economy — and a Nation — that brings everyone along, and finally delivers our Nation’s founding promise to Black Americans. Together, we will lay the roots of real and lasting justice, so that we can become the extraordinary country that was promised to all Americans.
Juneteenth not only commemorates the past. It calls us to action today
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 19, 2021, as Juneteenth Day of Observance. I call upon the people of the United States to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of Black Americans, and commit together to eradicate systemic racism that still undermines our founding ideals and collective prosperity.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.
JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.
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