Today, we celebrate Juneteenth. The day all Americans were truly free. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce the end of the Civil War and slavery. Most know the official abolition of slavey as President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation becoming official on January 1, 1863. However, due to the lack of Union troops, they were unable to enforce the executive order in Texas until two and a half years later. Texas was the last in the Confederacy to receive word that slavery had been abolished. Today, also known as “Freedom Day” is in memory of the day all Americans became free.
Many historians argue the reasoning for the delay in freeing the last of the slaves, however, there are three main theories:
- The messenger from the union was possibly murdered on his way to deliver the news
- The news was possibly purposely withheld by laborers to maintain the labor force on the plantations
- Federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest
Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination for many and some decided to regroup with their families in the neighboring states like Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
After that day, the celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from descendants of the freed slaves. According to many social justice advocates, the celebration calls for a time for reassuring one another, praying, gathering families, and for elders to recant the stories of their ancestors. There is a wide range of activities to entertain the masses on Juneteenth, many of which including barbecuing, baseball, and fishing are all considered traditional Juneteenth activities.
Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations declined in participation, but saw a resurgence with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. In 1968, Juneteenth received another strong rejuvenation through the Poor People’s March to Washington D.C., which was Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels, and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor. Many attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in their hometowns where there were no previous activities happening for the holiday. Two of the largest Juneteenth celebrations founded after the Poor People’s March are now held in Milwaukee and Minneapolis, and many other celebrations are widely held across the United States.
Today, Juneteenth celebrates African-American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. Parades, concerts and festivals will take place across the country to keep the history of Juneteenth alive. To this day many descendants still make the annual pilgrimage back to Galvester, Texas on this day to commemorate the significance of Juneteenth.