Juneteenth is the oldest annual celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger went to Galveston, Texas, and stated that the Civil War ended as well as slavery. A General Order was put into effect following a proclamation from the Executive of the United States that all slaves were free. These words put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued more than two and a half years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln Jan 1, 1863. The 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was now set to be ratified.
In 1866 The First Juneteenth celebration took place. The Emancipation Proclamation was read, songs were sung, games were played, food was eaten, and prayers were prayed. Celebrations were widespread amongst black communities, but eventually and through continued resistance, 20th Century Jim Crow laws began to take effect and freedom for many felt foreign. Eventually, economic and cultural limitations decreased, and celebrations declined.
It was not until 1968 during the Poor Peoples March to Washington DC; Juneteenth was reinvigorated by all people, races, creeds, and economic levels and professions. Today’s Juneteenth celebrations have grown significantly within communities and institutions where many organizations celebrate this milestone as a national holiday beginning with Texas in 1980, followed by Congress in 1997 naming Juneteenth its own Independence Day.
This year Juneteenth is different. Though it has come short of being a national holiday, the recent deaths of George Floyd, Tytianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many more have energized the call for change across the country and the world. The world has united in support of this change. As a result, difficult conversations are beginning, reforms are being discussed, and the world is listening to the struggles that Black Americans have been fighting for over 250 years. While we know that change is a systemic process, what we also understand during this time is its possibilities. For the first time in decades, Black people feel heard across the world and heard by individuals who have the power and ability to make changes that will improve outcomes. Today we celebrate and recognize the liberation, progression, and freedom of African Americans through Juneteenth.