Juneteenth: Celebrating freedom from slavery at very great cost

By Karen Halfpop, Branson Globe Digital/Production Director

Today is Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in our country. Many people believe Juneteenth should be celebrated as a second “independance day.” Here’s a little more about Juneteenth.


A family celebrates at the Juneteenth Parade at Malcom X Park in Philadelpiha.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared in the Emancipation Proclamation that all enslaved people in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t instantly free any slaves. The proclamation only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control. However, as Northern troops advanced into the Confederate South, many slaves fled behind Union lines.

However, as the war was coming to a close, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode in to Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 with the news, “In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

That proclamation signaled freedom for Texas’ 250,000 slaves, however in some cases, slave owners withheld the news until after harvest season. Nevertheless, celebrations among newly freed black people broke out, and that was the beginning of Juneteenth.

That December, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.

“Juneteenth” is the amalgamation of the words “June” and “nineteenth”.

Celebrations of Juneteenth date to 1866, when freedmen in Texas organized the first of what would become an annual celebration of “Jubilee Day.” Commemorations featured music, barbecues, and church-centered activites across the South. In the 1920s and 30s, the celebration centered on food festivals.

Racial discord in the 1960s put the celebration on hiatus, however by the 1970s, Juneteenth grew in popularity and focused on African America freedom and arts.

In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday.

Today, Juneteenth is recognized as a holiday in 47 states - North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii do not recognized it as yet - but there is an ongoing effort to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. So far the efforts have stalled in Congress, but 2020 could be the year Juneteenth is fully recognized.

The ugliness of slavery and the meaning of the Juneteenth holiday is brought in to clear focus by this quote attributed to Harriet Tubman: “I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.”

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