Why Celebrate Juneteenth

by Clarence Baney and Patti Ross

Last year (2021), Juneteenth became an official Federal holiday. African Americans have recognized the holiday since 1980 when June 19th became a state holiday in Texas.  Juneteenth recognizes the day enslaved Africans were told they had been freed, although the proclamation was issued over two years prior. The story begins in the midst of the Civil War. After being petitioned by several formerly enslaved people, including Frederick Douglas, President Lincoln was urged to allow Black men into the military to fight in the war. Several abolitionist organizations including the Presbyterian Church, though at odds over slavery in their own congregations, aided the soldiers and formerly enslaved people through a partnership with the United States Christian Commission.

Thus, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, September 22, 1862, which declared that all enslaved persons, in areas that were “in rebellion” (Confederate states), were free. The proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863. However, it was not until June 2, 1865, that the Confederate Army surrendered, effectively ending the institution of slavery in the South. Yet, slavery continued in rural areas and the state of Texas until June 19th when Union General Major Gordon Granger finally reached Galveston, issuing the proclamation that “The people of Texas are informed, that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free…”.

While June 19th is marked with celebration it also should give all Americans a moment of pause—a moment of examination. Juneteenth is both jubilee and injustice; two years of continued enslavement for Texas slaves was simply wrong. While we recognize our accomplishments, we must also acknowledge our failures. So, let us see Juneteenth as a reminder of the continuing push for racial justice and equity in the United States.

Watch this video from Vox, Why Americans Should Honor Juneteenth.

Watch this video from Columbia University, Why do we celebrate Juneteenth.

Learn more about the Emancipation Proclamation from the National Archives