Juneteenth to be Celebrated as Federal Holiday for the First Time

Dr. E.C. Beuck

Today, President Biden signed a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, making it the 11th federal holiday overall. It was first unanimously passed on June 15 in the Senate, then by 415 to 14 votes in the House of Representatives. Having finally been recognized by the federal government, this years celebration will be a special one. That being said, though now legally recognized, the holiday itself has been around for a while now.

While the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln in 1862 officially otulawed slavery in all the states that had rebelled against the Union, the remoteness of Texas and the relative lack of Union troops at the end of the civil war led to a low and inconsistent enforcement of the proclamation. As a result, it would not be until June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger of the Union Army issued Order No. 3, that all slaves in Texas were considered free. That being said, it would not be until 1874, after a number of Texas Supreme Court decisions started in 1868, that the freedom of all formerly enslaved people in Texas was given final legal status.

The text of Order No. 3 is brief and to the point:

Head Quarters District of Texas

General Galveston Texas June 19th 1865 - Order No. 3

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 labor.

The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

By order of Major General Granger - F.W. Emery - Major A.A. Genl.

Though often shortened to Juneteenth, it is officially Juneteenth National Independence Day, while also being known as Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day. The first recorded celebrations involved church-centered community gathering across Texas starting in 1866. In 1898, any estimated 30,000 people attended a celebration at Booker T Washington Park in Limestone County, Texas, which was established for the celebration that year. Since then, it gradually spread across the South, and began to become more commercialized in the 1920s and 1930s. While the celebrations were overpowered by the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the celebrations would again surge in popularity following the 1970s. By the 1990s, the holiday was receiving mainstream attention across the US.

Modern day celebrations tend to be locally organized, with such things as the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, the singing of traditional songs, and the reading of works by the great African-American writers. This year a number of special events will be coming to the D.C. area. Here are a few of them:

1. What Is Black Art Exhibition: Artwork will be displayed by 19 Black artists from around the world. For more information.

2. Moechella Juneteenth Weekend and Unity Fest: A party and music festival that will run from friday through the weekend.

3. Juneteenth Lighting for Freedom and Justice: A lighting of the west facade of the National Cathedral to honor the emacipation of enslaved people.

4. The National Museum of African American History and Culture's Juneteenth Series: To recognize the holiday, the museum will be hosting a number of online events throughout the day covering a number of topics related the Juneteenth and Emancipation.

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Holding a PhD in Political Science, I write about current events and on political topics related to international relations, international law, conflict both between and within states, and the interactions between technology and politics.

Washington, DC
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