Since the late 1800s, African Americans have observed Juneteenth, an annual celebration commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States following the Civil War. But the question remains, ‘Why Did It Take 2 Years for Juneteenth?‘
After heightened interest in the day during the summer of 2020 and widespread protests following the police killings of Black Americans notably George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, President Biden signed legislation in 2021 making Juneteenth, which falls on June 19, a federal holiday.
Over the last several years, there has been a noteworthy upsurge in Juneteenth festivities around the United States.
Here’s a little primer on Juneteenth.
Why Did It Take 2 Years for Juneteenth
Granger’s ruling was intended to free the 250,000 Black people still enslaved in Texas who had not yet been informed by their white masters that they were legally emancipated.
Why had it taken so long to notify Texans? The Union Army was not in command in this state, and some in power purposefully concealed knowledge about emancipation in order to preserve the economic benefits of slave labor for slaveholders.
How Did Juneteenth Begin?
Gordon Granger, a Union commander, came to Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, almost two months after Confederate leader Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va., to inform enslaved African Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended.
General Granger’s proclamation placed into effect President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued nearly two and a half years previously, on January 1, 1863.
It is also known as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” “Freedom Day,” or “Emancipation Day.”
How is it Celebrated?
According to Juneteenth.com, early festivities included prayer and family reunions, and eventually featured annual pilgrimages to Galveston by former enslaved individuals and their families.
In 1872, a group of African American clergy and businesspeople in Houston purchased ten acres of land and established Emancipation Park to host the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration.
Today, while some festivities take place in backyards with families, with food as a key component, certain places, such as Atlanta and Washington, organize larger events, including parades and festivals involving citizens, local businesses, and more.
While the coronavirus epidemic dampened celebrations in 2020 and 2021, other cities increased their plans last year and aim to have larger events this year.
Why Did it Take So Long for Texas to Free Slaves?
The Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom to enslaved persons in Confederate States that were still at war. Making that directive a reality, however, required military successes by the US Army as well as a continued presence to enforce it.
It wasn’t until June of 1865, more than two years later, that US Army forces arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to officially declare and implement emancipation.
Texas was the final state in the Confederacy where enslaved persons were legally freed—a little-known fact. “The observance is not widely known because Juneteenth is not celebrated in most of the U.S. and is only vaguely covered in history courses,” he said.
“The only courses available in high school were African American Literature and African American History.” I had no idea Juneteenth was a holiday because we were never given the day off to observe it.”
Theodosia S. Cook, CU Chief Diversity Officer, highlighted why Juneteenth, and awareness of its past, is important. “Juneteenth symbolizes freedom, but it also acknowledges that the United States of America was built upon the denial of freedom for Black people,” she went on to say.
Our country’s second independence day is Juneteenth. Although it has long been commemorated in the African American community, most Americans are unaware of this historic event.
The historical legacy of Juneteenth demonstrates the importance of never giving up hope in difficult times.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture serves as a community gathering place where this spirit of hope can be found. A location where historical events such as Juneteenth are discussed and fresh stories are told with equal urgency.