The History of Juneteenth
“Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible—and there is still so much work to do.” — Barack Obama (Romper, 2022).
Juneteenth is commemorated annually to mark the end of slavery in the United States after the Civil War and has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s (Taylor, 2022). The holiday falls each year on June 19, in honor of an event that occurred in 1865. On June 19th, Major General Gordon Granger and his Union Army troops rode into Galveston, Texas, on horseback and told those who were still enslaved there that they were finally free from the shackles of slavery.
On 22nd September 1862, President Abraham Lincoln declared that as of 1st January 1863, all enslaved people in the states currently engaged in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free. (History, 2020)” The document applied only to enslaved people in the Confederacy, and not to those in the border states that remained loyal to the Union. This document is known as the Emancipation Proclamation.
Following Juneteenth, slavery was officially abolished with the 13th amendment, which was ratified in December 1865. The amendment reads (National Geographic Society, 2020), “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The 13th Amendment was necessary because the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery entirely. In addition to banning slavery, the amendment outlawed the practice of involuntary servitude and peonage.
President Biden signed legislation that made Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2019. The renewed interest in the day was due to the nationwide protests that followed the police killings of Black Americans including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Black Lives Matter movement.
Early on, Juneteenth celebrations often involved helping newly freed Black folks learn about their voting rights, rodeos, and horseback riding. Now, Juneteenth celebrations commonly involve cookouts, parades, church services, musical performances, and other public events. It is a time to attend a parade, buy from Black-owned businesses, and read books about Juneteenth.
In St. Louis, Mo, there are events throughout the region to mark the holiday. This year marks St. Louis’ first city-sponsored Juneteenth event. Williams’ b. Marcell Enterprises in partnership with the Missouri Division of Tourism started a program focused on serving young Black girls from marginalized communities through mentorship, education, training, and social activism. The Missouri Botanical Garden will be offering free admission for all in honor of Juneteenth with an interpretive guide to guide the visitors through African Americans' significant contributions to botanical science.
“Juneteenth may mark just one moment in the struggle for emancipation, but the holiday gives us an occasion to reflect on the profound contributions of enslaved Black Americans to the cause of human freedom.” — Jamelle Bouie (Romper, 2022).
History. (2020, January 6). Emancipation Proclamation. Retrieved from History: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/emancipation-proclamation
National Geographic Society. (2020). The 13th Amendment To The United States Constitution. Retrieved from National Geographic Society: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/13th-amendment-united-states-constitution
Romper. (2022, June 16). Juneteenth. Retrieved from Romper: https://www.romper.com/life/juneteenth-quotes
Taylor, D. B. (2022, June 20). Juneteenth: The History of a Holiday. Retrieved from The NewYork Times: https://www.nytimes.com/article/juneteenth-day-celebration.html
Sarah Hobson, Ph.D. specializes in supporting teams, departments and schools, businesses, and government agencies in building inclusive innovative change-making communities who understand how to connect well with and join diverse populations in providing needed sustainable resources for all youth and families.