Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is an important day in American history. It marks the day when enslaved African Americans in Texas were informed of their freedom. Juneteenth has been celebrated by African Americans for over a century, but it wasn’t until recently that it became a national holiday. This article will explore the history of Juneteenth and how it became a national holiday in 2023.
The History of Juneteenth
The history of Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that all slaves were free. This announcement came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
The delay in the news reaching Texas was due to the lack of communication and enforcement of the executive order. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to Confederate states, which had seceded from the Union and did not recognize Lincoln’s authority.
Despite the delay, news of General Granger’s announcement spread quickly, and African Americans in Texas celebrated their newfound freedom with parades, barbecues, and other festivities. The celebrations became an annual tradition and eventually spread throughout the South and across the country.
The Fight for Recognition
For decades, Juneteenth was celebrated primarily by African American communities and organizations. It was not until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s that Juneteenth began to gain wider recognition.
In 1968, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, declared Juneteenth a national day of observance. He encouraged African Americans across the country to celebrate Juneteenth as a way to commemorate the end of slavery and to promote unity and pride in their heritage.
Despite the declaration, Juneteenth remained largely unrecognized by the federal government and many Americans. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Juneteenth gained momentum as a movement for national recognition.
The Push for National Recognition
In 1994, Congressman Al Edwards, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, introduced legislation to make Juneteenth a state holiday in Texas. The legislation was passed and signed into law by Governor Ann Richards, making Texas the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday.
Encouraged by the success in Texas, activists and lawmakers began pushing for Juneteenth to be recognized as a national holiday. In 1997, Congress passed a resolution recognizing Juneteenth as “a day of celebration and a day of significance,” but stopped short of making it a federal holiday.
Efforts continued over the years, with groups like the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation advocating for national recognition. In 2021, amid a national reckoning on race and systemic racism, Juneteenth gained renewed attention and support.
The Path to National Holiday Status
In 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law making Juneteenth a federal holiday. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and with overwhelming support in the House of Representatives.
The bill designates Juneteenth as a federal holiday, giving federal employees the day off and making it the first new federal holiday in nearly 40 years. It also recognizes the historical significance of Juneteenth and its importance in American history.
Juneteenth is a significant day in American history, marking the end of slavery and the beginning of a long journey toward freedom and equality for all. The path to national recognition was long and difficult, but the efforts of activists and lawmakers finally paid off in 2021 with the designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday. As we celebrate Juneteenth in the years to come, we should remember the struggles and sacrifices of those who came before us and continue to work toward a more just and equitable society.