“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” – Excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
It took a few years before all enslaved people in the US became legally free. People in Texas didn’t hear the news until June 19, 1865 when General Gordon, of the arriving Union Army announced the fact. Enslaved people in Union states became officially free with the adoption of the 13th Constitutional Amendment on Dec. 6, 1865. Members of the Chocktaw indigenous nation enslaved in the “Indian Territories” were freed in 1866.
Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day or Emancipation Day, is the longest running African-American celebration of emancipation. Freedmen in Galveston, Texas created the first organized celebration on June 19, 1866. Juneteenth was recognized as a US federal public holiday this last June 17th, by the 117th Congress (2021-22). African-Americans have been celebrating their freedom from slavery ever since they became aware of the President’s Proclamation. It took the US Government 158 years to acknowledge that releasing people from slavery is something to be
celebrated, or at the least, that a significant sector of the American population celebrates it.
I’m realizing that Juneteenth is important to me, too. If President Lincoln had not freed slaves in the Confederate states, I might still be living in a society that condones enslavement of humans. I and my family might still be enslaving people, as we did in the late 1630s.
God of freedom, it’s time we stop segregating holidays by race. I’m starting to plan my Juneteenth party for next year! Amen.