Today is Juneteenth! Juneteenth became an official federal holiday last year, making it the 12th legal public holiday in the country. The last one was created in 1983 when then-President Ronald Regan signed Martin Luther King Jr. Day into law.
The holiday is officially known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, and it celebrates the end of slavery after the Civil War.
A lot can be learned about what the Celebration means by reading the Equal Justice Initiative website (EJI). Here are seven important things to know about the holiday and what it means for Black Americans.
1. After President Abraham Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, supposedly all slaves were freed, but that is not what really happened. There was still a war happening, and the declaration was unenforceable in states still under Confederate control. As a matter of fact, the Southern states completely ignored it, especially on rural plantations.
2. Texas was especially hard-headed about letting slaves know they were freed. It was not until June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Grander arrived in Galveston, Texas to deliver General Order No. 3 that slavery was officially ended in the state. Two months after Lincoln was assassinated.
3. According to EJI, “…white Southerners had extended the enslavement of countless Black people by concealing the Civil War’s end for more than two months, [until] Union troops arrived in Texas. For the first time, local Black residents learned that the Confederacy had lost the war and that they were free under the Emancipation Proclamation.”
4. While the Confederate Army’s surrender on April 9, 1865 should have immediately freed enslaved Black people in the United States and its territories, some states, known as “border states,” were exempt. So, even with the Union victory, slavery was allowed to continue in Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri.
5. EJI also reported that, “Slavery did not become illegal throughout the entire U.S. until ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865…Even after the 13th Amendment became national law, many states including Kentucky and Delaware resisted ratifying the provision for decades. Mississippi, the last state to do so, refused to pass ratification legislation until 1995, and didn’t formally file the passage until 2013.”
6. June 19 became known as “Juneteenth” in the African American community once the Black slaves got the official word, it said on the EJI website, and has for generations remained a day of remembrance, joyous celebration, and hope.
7. The Juneteenth holiday was passed unanimously by the United States Senate on June 15, 2021 and by the House the following day.