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Juneteenth: A brief history

Words by Smiley Team

June 19 is becoming an increasingly recognizable date in the American zeitgeist.

The date goes by many names, like Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, or the country's second Independence Day, but it’s best known as Juneteenth. The date marks the day – more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – that many slaves throughout enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received word that they were free. 

Now, just under 160 years later, Juneteenth became a federal holiday after President Biden signed it into law in 2021.

“On Juneteenth, we recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice. And, we celebrate the centuries of struggle, courage, and hope that have brought us to this time of progress and possibility,” President Biden said in a statement. “That work has been led throughout our history by abolitionists and educators, civil rights advocates and lawyers, courageous activists and trade unionists, public officials, and everyday Americans who have helped make real the ideals of our founding documents for all.”

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The name Juneteenth comes from the combined “June” and “Nineteenth” and is the day that Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, who had fought for the Union, rode into Galveston with orders that the war was over and the slaves were to be freed. 

“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer,” the order reads, in part.

In celebration of Black Americans’ emancipation, Black community leaders in Houston saved $1,000 to purchase land in 1872 that would be devoted specifically to Juneteenth celebrations, according to the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. That land became Emancipation Park, a name that it still bears.

“There is still more work to do,” President Biden said. 

Inspired to Act?

DONATE: Consider donating to Emancipation Park to promote the upkeep of the historical monument. 

SUPPORT: Support organizations that uplift the history of the world, like the Civil Rights Museum, even if that history is messy and hard to look at.


This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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