For more than 150 years, African-Americans across the U.S. have celebrated freedom from slavery on June 19, also known as Juneteenth.
Juneteenth celebrates the anniversary of the day in 1865 when a general read Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Texas, freeing slaves in a portion of the last un-emancipated state.
The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, but it took several years and the end of the Civil War for it to become a reality for hundreds of thousands of enslaved African-Americans. After more than two years, there were still thousands of enslaved Black Americans unaware of their freedom, located in a handful of southern territories where word spread slowly or was outright resisted.
Juneteenth, therefore, acknowledges June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger, along with more than 1,800 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state, and ensure freedom for the last remaining slaves in the area.
The newly freed African Americans rejoiced by praying, dancing and gathering for community feasts. Those gatherings recurred each year, commemorating what became known as Freedom Day, later Jubilee Day, and then Juneteenth Independence Day.
Although Juneteenth has been informally celebrated primarily by African American communities since that day in 1865, currently 47 of 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday or observance. Texas became the first in 1980.
More than 200 official events commemorate Juneteenth in cities and towns across the U.S. and the world - including in Galveston, Texas, where the holiday originates. Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Buffalo, New York, are home to the country’s three largest annual festivals, featuring everything from parades to Miss Juneteenth Day pageants. Tourists often take part in special museum tours focused on African American history.
This year, many official celebrations have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, as protests have erupted across the country in response to the police killing of George Floyd, some demonstrations against police brutality and institutional racism have been planned in lieu of official Juneteenth gatherings.
— Lafayette Woods Jr. is sheriff of Jefferson County.