Despite Texas celebrating June 19th as an unofficial state holiday for over a hundred years, last year President Biden took action to mark June 19th as a federal holiday: Juneteenth National Independence Day.
This is the 11th federal holiday and the first newly created federal holiday in 39 years. It is only the fourth new federal holiday since 1894, when Labor Day was established. Given the rarity, it is worth pausing to consider the weight and meaning of Juneteenth.
On June 19, 1865 General Gordon Granger announced General Order No. 3 upon his arrival with Union soldiers in Galveston, Texas. This order was a transmission of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln’s executive order permanently freeing enslaved African Americans. It is worth noting that Texas slaves (and many others) heard General Order No. 3 two years after Lincoln’s proclamation.
Nevertheless, this announcement in Texas fully established to all enslaved that slavery no longer shackled them: they were free Americans!
This is still worthy of celebration today, 157 years later. And though, in many ways, we are still trying to see the efforts of Reconstruction fully realized, Juneteenth marks the initial provision of opportunity for enslaved African Americans.
I would encourage you to slow down on Juneteenth this year and imagine, as far as you are able, the emotions that would have flooded the minds and hearts of those hearing the announcement in Galveston for the first time.
Today, we can, and should, consider this reality of American history and allow that to inform our opportunity to join in celebration of Juneteenth National Independence Day.