DemDaily: What is Juneteenth?

June 17, 2024

This Wednesday is Juneteenth Independence Day, a federal holiday signed into law by President Joe Biden on June 17, 2021, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

The legislation followed a historic year of civil unrest -- one that demanded justice in the wake of a nationwide outcry over police brutality and systematic racism. The turmoil was further compounded by a pandemic that disproportionately affected people and communities of color.

"Juneteenth" is a combination of "June" and "nineteenth," the 1865 date when Union soldiers announced in Galveston, Texas that all previously enslaved people were free -- more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

History
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, three years into the bloody American Civil War. It declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."

The proclamation, however, only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control.

To fully end the practice of slavery, it took Union soldiers riding through the South to enforce an order many slaves did not even know existed. Texas was the most remote of the slave states, and the last holdout, finally liberating its quarter-million enslaved residents.

Slavery did not officially end until the completion of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States on December 6, 1865 -- which abolished slavery "within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

America's Second Independence Day
Juneteenth has since been celebrated as a de facto "second Independence Day" for many African Americans, commemorating the end of slavery and the beginning of a centuries-long struggle to live up to our country's founding promise of "equality for all."

Commemorations date back to 1866, with church-centered community gatherings in Texas, which eventually spread to more commercialized events across the South in the 1920s and 1930s.

Although recognition of the day waned in the wake of the Depression, Juneteenth celebrations experienced a resurgence following the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, focusing on African American freedom and expression.

On June 1, 1980, Texas became the first to officially recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, and by 2019, Juneteenth was celebrated in most major cities and recognized annually in almost all states.

Its designation as a federal holiday at last pays formal tribute to the contribution of Black people to the struggle for justice in the United States and to the importance of our shared history and goal of freedom from racism for all Americans.

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott
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Sources: US Congress, Juneteenth.com, CNN, New York Times, The Root, History.com

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