Juneteenth honors the date, June 19, 1865, when the last Confederate community of enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, received word that they had been freed from bondage. Union General Gordon Granger led the unit in Galveston who would ensure the proclamation was enforced.
In the years before Granger’s landing, news of the proclamation was slow to reach Texas, and did not reach some quarters at all. In other places, the news was hidden by slaveholders to preserve slavery.
While the Emancipation Proclamation had freed enslaved people more than two years prior, it wasn’t until the end of the Civil War that Union troops had the strength to enforce General Order No. 3 in the once Confederate states.
The Reformation Amendments that followed further expanded the freedoms and rights of African Americans. The 13th Amendment ended slavery in all states; the 14th Amendment provided citizenship, due process and equal protection; and the 15th Amendment provided the opportunity to vote and hold office.
But Juneteenth always held a sacred space for those who had endured the horrors of slavery and racism. Many formerly enslaved African Americans and their descendants continued to celebrate Juneteenth in Texas—sometimes making pilgrimages to Galveston in honor of the day.
Juneteenth has been an official holiday in Texas since 1980.
In President Biden’s proclamation of the official federal holiday he wrote, “In its celebration of freedom, Juneteenth is a day that should be recognized by all Americans…A day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country—what I’ve long called America’s original sin. A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity. But it is a day that also reminds us of our incredible capacity to heal, hope, and emerge from our darkest moments with purpose and resolve.”