What It Celebrates

Juneteenth is the holiday that celebrates the true end to slavery. While the Emancipation Proclamation officially ended slavery on January 1st, 1863, it could only impact Union States. With the American Civil War still raging, the Confederate States did not recognize their slaves’ freedom. When the Union won and the Confederate States of America was no more, the proclamation had to be recognized. The trouble was, in the days before the instant communication of the internet, news took a long time to spread through all the southern states. To quote the official Juneteenth website:

on June 19th [1865]…Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Juneteenth Logo

Juneteenth Comes to Massachusetts

The holiday was not celebrated much outside of Texas until recently. With the move of Antiracism activism to the mainstream, it was slowly gaining a wider audience. In 2007, then Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick formerly recognized the holiday but it was not until 2020 that governor Charlie Baker made it an official Massachusetts state holiday. (Source)

Juneteenth Around the Country

The first state to make it a holiday was, naturally, Texas. Which it did in 1980. As of 2021, it is not a Federal holiday, only three states, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Hawaii do not recognize it as a state holiday. (Source)

Books

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison

Further Reading and Listening