Celebrating Juneteenth means commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. The holiday was first observed in Texas in 1865, when Union troops arrived at Galveston Island to liberate slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed a full two years prior yet states that were not occupied by the Union did not honor it and maintained their slavery practices. Texas was one of those places.
During this time in the country’s history, slaves were often isolated, for the most part, they were not allowed to read or write, so how would they know they were free to leave? This construct helped the slave owner maintain power and control over them. Slave owners did everything they could to continue to maintain slavery which included ignoring the Federal Government and flouting the law. This was especially true in Texas since they had no involvement in the Civil War; Union Troops did not come into the state to fight against the Confederacy and free enslaved people.
The challenge in freeing enslaved people from states that were not occupied by the Union, centered around understanding the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed into Federal law and applied to all people in all states. The Emancipation Proclamation guaranteed they were no longer required to provide free labor, but how were they to know?
Ultimately, the Union Troops descended on Texas declaring freedom from slavery. The word began to spread yet because of the social constructs and fear, it took a bigger effort for slaves to rise up and exercise their freedom. Out of the need to inform each other of the protection by the laws of the federal government, Juneteenth was born. Juneteenth celebrations became a way to bring people together and share the knowledge that they were free to pursue a better life, leave their abusers, to be able to learn how to read and write, and most importantly, freedom to thrive. Over 250,000 people in Texas were freed over time.
Why Celebrate Juneteenth?
Juneteenth was declared a National Holiday in 2021 and is being celebrated locally and nationally. Celebrating Juneteenth is an opportunity to reflect on the history of slavery in the United State and how far we have come as a nation. In addition to being an important historical event, Juneteenth also serves as a reminder of how far we still have to go to achieve true equality. To honor the courage of enslaved people to reject and escape their oppressors, let’s celebrate Juneteenth!
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