Many of us are taught in school that slavery in America ended with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863. The truth, as usual, is more complicated. For one, the Proclamation only applied to the rebellious states, and while most of the border states followed with their own emancipation, Delaware and Kentucky did not end slavery until the passing of the 13th Amendment in December 1865. Second, news of the Proclamation spread slowly through the Confederate states, often purposely impeded by whites to keep the slaves ignorant of their freedom for as long as possible.
The last of the Confederate states to get the news was Texas, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. On June 19th, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and read General Order No. 3 which reads, in part: "The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free." The news sparked jubilant celebrations in the Black community across Texas, and it became a yearly tradition to gather and celebrate with food, speeches, and fine clothing. Also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, Juneteenth is now celebrated around the nation. Texas was the first to declare it a state holiday in 1980, and 45 other states have followed suit. There is a movement to make it a national holiday.
This year's celebration is especially poignant, as we as a nation are finally reckoning with the fact that racial inequality did not end with slavery, nor with the Civil Rights movements of the past. So let's celebrate Juneteenth not only with parties, but with the determination to continue the fight for Black liberation. To find out more, check out our comprehensive reading list.
If you're celebrating, you'll definitely need some good recipes, and we're here for that too, with a booklist celebrating Black chefs.
Jeffries, J. L. (2004). Juneteenth, Black Texans and the Case for Reparations. Negro Educational Review, 55(2–3), 107–115.
Williams, J. K. (2013, June 13). Juneteenth: An African-American celebration of freedom. New York Amsterdam News, 104(24), 30.