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“When peace come they read the ’Mancipation law to the cullud people.  [The freed slaves] spent that night singin’ and shoutin’. They wasn’t slaves no more.”

- Former slave Pierce Harper, 1937

June 2024, New York, NY…, Juneteenth is also known as “Freedom Day,” “Juneteenth National Independence Day,” or “Emancipation Day,” and will be celebrated on Wednesday, June 19th in the United States.

Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day, June 19, 1865, when General Order No. 3 was read aloud by Union Officer Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger in Galveston, TX., informed Texans that all enslaved people in the state were free.


FACT:   The real oldest celebration of the end of slavery takes place in Gallipolis, a town in Southern Ohio.  That celebration began on September 22, 1863, a year after the signing of the preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.

MYTH: Watch Night Services did not begin on the eve of January 1, 1863.

FACT:  Most slaves watched and prayed each year on December 31st, as they didn’t know who would be sold the following day based on the debt, etc., of the slave owner.

MYTH: Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the United States.

FACT:  Slavery remained in Kentucky and Delaware after June 19, 1865.  Slavery ended in Kentucky on August 8, 1865, and Delaware on December 6, 1865, also listed as December 18, 1865, when the 13th Amendment was adopted. Contrary to the popular narrative, the Southern states were not alone in their adamant refusal to end slavery. New York also held on to that repressive institution until the free black community and the Manumission Society combined to persuade Governor Daniel D. Tompkins and the state legislature to end slavery within its boundaries, which became official on July 4, 1867.

MYTH: Former slaves took Juneteenth across the South. 

FACT: Former Texans migrated to other states and carried this celebration with them.

FACT: The Emancipation Proclamation was common knowledge by the time Granger arrived in Galveston (June 19, 1865) as the War Department’s telegram had been sent on January 1, 1863. The Proclamation had been adopted in the Federal House of Representatives by a vote of 78-51.  More than 100 Texas newspapers mentioned the Emancipation Proclamation between 1862 and 1864.  The real reason people were still in bondage when the troops arrived was because of local leaders.  The Texas Confederate Constitution prohibited manumission.  Lincoln’s directive was enforced only when Federal soldiers arrived.  Houston was emancipated June 20, 1865, and Austin was emancipated June 23, 1865.

FACT: African Americans have always celebrated Juneteenth, but the celebrations died out during Jim Crow Era.  The Civil Rights Movement brought national recognition to it later.  The Poor People’s Campaign’s focus, including a March on Washington and Construction of “Resurrection City” drew attention to economic inequality and poverty.

Jill Freedman Resurrection City Exhibition

The final ceremonies included a Juneteenth Celebration.  Activists took Juneteenth back home with them - a renewal of this celebration.  In 2017, a special episode of ABC’s sitcom “Black-ish into Popular Culture” helped bring this celebration back into focus.

FACT: ON JUNE 17, 2021, JUNETEENTH OFFICIALLY BECAME A FEDERAL HOLIDAY.   In signing the legislation, President Biden said, “This is a day, in my view, of profound weight and profound power, a day in which we remember the moral stain, terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take."

Civil Rights activists, religious leaders, and politicians across the country applauded the signing of the bill. Opal Lee, a/k/a the “grandmother of the movement” is credited for making Juneteenth a federal holiday and was present at the White House for the signing of the bill. She said she was “so happy I could have done a holy dance." VP Kamala Harris remarked, “I see the advocates, the activists, the leaders, who have been calling for this day for so long, including the one and only Ms. Opal Lee.”  In 2016, at 89 years old, Opal Lee, a former teacher and lifelong activist, walked from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to the nation's capital in an effort to get Juneteenth named a national holiday.

Opal Lee at WH as Biden signs bill making Juneteenth Federal Holiday; Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

In an essay entitled When Peace Come: Teaching the Significance of Juneteenth, Shennette Garret-Scott wrote: “The holiday makes room for people of all backgrounds to celebrate what is unique about their culture and experiences while pushing America to make social justice a living reality for everyone. Juneteenth endures as an acknowledgment of the failures and the promises of America.”

The physical chains of slavery have been removed; however, as Smithsonian Institution secretary Lonnie Bunch observed, “emancipation is a process that is still unfolding—not simply a day or a moment of jubilee.”  

It is 2024, and the residual effects of slavery still exist. Our civil rights, voting rights, and women’s reproductive rights are being systemically stripped away, and we are still faced with discriminatory housing and hiring practices.  Affirmative Action has been struck down, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs are being dismantled.

It is 2024, and according to the Pew Research Center, while every state has at some point recognized Juneteenth as a day of observance, 26 states have yet to adopt Juneteenth as a paid public holiday, including seven former Confederate states.

So, one might ask, aside from the ceremonial signing of a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday, have things really changed for Black and brown people in America?

It is 2024 --- the struggle continues. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! - Amos 5:24 (NIV)

Reference Sources: Myths About Juneteenth, Madge Allen, April 1, 2021 (Google Search). Association for the Study of African American History (ASLAH); The Washington Post “Democracy Dies in Darkness.  Reporter: Nicole Ellis; AFI – Odelia Scruggs June 18, 2020; Shennette Garrett-Scott, Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Mississippi.

Remembering Juneteenth


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