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Mrs. Charles Stephenson (Grace Murray) from Austin Public Library Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900, Texas.

Happy Juneteenth!

William C Teller, Creative Commons, 2020 Commemorative plaque in Galveston, Texas where the freedom from slavery order was issued from Union Army headquarters on June 19, 1865.

By CAROLINE YEZER


June 19 is a US national holiday entitled National Freedom Day. To most Americans who celebrate it, it is better known as “Juneteenth,” a shortened version of “June Nineteenth.” Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the US.


You would think that this commemoration would happen on January 1, because that was the day that President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but there’s a reason: the Juneteenth holiday celebrates the actual freeing of slaves in Galveston, Texas. In Texas and several other slave-holding states, slavery continued after the Proclamation and even after the Civil War had ended, because there were no Union troops there to enforce the new federal law.


The very first Juneteenth was celebrated in Texas. On that date in 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War, Union troops arrived to free the slaves that had been declared to be free two full years earlier. It’s no wonder black communities celebrate Juneteenth then, on the date when the promise to free slaves was actually kept and put into practice.


Juneteenth is recognized by 47 states and Washington D.C., as a state holiday or observance. Only Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota do not observe the holiday. In 2006, legislation was passed making New Mexico the 19th state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. The state traditionally observes Juneteenth on the Saturday nearest to June 19, with lowered flags. This year it falls on a Saturday. Celebrate!

Author

  • Dr. Caroline Yezer is a cultural anthropologist (PhD Duke University 2007) who has taught anthropology curriculum at College of the Holy Cross and Clark University in Massachusetts.