President Obama yesterday took a moment from his packed schedule to commemorate Juneteenth, but many African- Americans were not even aware that there was a holiday in their midst.
For those who aren’t up on their American history, Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when slow-moving word finally reached slaves in Galveston, Texas, that they were free—more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Union General Gordon Granger actually had to issue an order when he reached Galveston with Union forces on June 19 because he saw that slavery was still ongoing in the Texas town.
This is what the order said:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
The day is particularly poignant this year because it is the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement’s Freedom Summer in Mississippi.
“On this day in 1865 – more than two years after President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation – word finally reached Galveston, Texas that the slaves there were free,” President Obama said in a statement. “Juneteenth marked an important moment in the life of our nation. But it was only the beginning of a long and difficult struggle for equal rights and equal treatment under the law. This year, as we also mark the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer, we honor those who continued to fight for equality and opportunity for Americans of every race and every background. And we recommit ourselves to the unending work of perfecting our Union.”
Many cities across the country held celebrations to honor the holiday. Officially, 43 states and the District of Columbia participate in Juneteenth observances.