Thursday, June 19, 2008
Brief History of Juneteenth
It is the perception of many that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves with a stroke of his pen. Yet the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, did no such thing . (at least I don't think it didn't do a very good job of it). Two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers sailed into Galveston, Texas, announced the end of the Civil War, and read aloud a general order freeing the quarter-million slaves residing in the state. It's likely that none of them had any idea that they had actually been freed more than two years before. It was truly a day of mass emancipation. It has become known as Juneteenth.
Juneteenth celebrations began there in the years following General Gordon Granger's 1865 proclamation in Galveston and continued for decades. The tradition spread to bordering Southern states, such as Arkansas and Louisiana, as migrating African Americans went to areas beyond Texas.
It has even reached as far as California. San Francisco actually has one of the biggest Juneteenth celebrations for the last five-plus decades — and Minnesota, where Minneapolis boasts a large festival.
Texas state legislator Al Edwards in 1979 introduced a bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday; the first state-approved celebration took place the following year. He also is one of many who has been working to make it a national holiday. In years past, Senator Barack Obama has co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday.