Juneteenth is celebrated across the country on the 19th of June, and it is the oldest national holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued during the third year of the Civil War and took effect on January 1, 1863, freeing more than 3 million enslaved people. However, not all slaves within the United States were truly freed. The proclamation was issued for the rebellious states, meaning that only those people enslaved in the states fighting against the Union were given freedom, while those slaves that resided within states of Union allies remained enslaved. It also failed to prevent future states from allowing the practice of slavery.
It would take two more years for the 13th Amendment to be passed which would completely aboloish slavery and the practice of involuntary servitude in America. With this amendment, slavery under all states, and future states, was illegal. Though slaves were technically free, information travelled slowly, and the news of the new law and the end of the Civil War had not reached all states. There were thousands of people living as slaves without the realization that they had been granted freedom.
Since Texas lacked the prescence of major fighting or a large Union army, slavery continued within the state after the 13th Amendment. On June 19th, 1865 Union Troops marched into Galveston Bay and declared by executive order that all slaves were free. From that point, Juneteenth became a day of celebration for former slaves and their descendents. During the 1900’s, celebrations for Juneteenth began to decline due to economical and environmental factors, but the Civil Rights movement brought a revitalization in the celebration of the holiday.
Juneteenth has been celebrated by other names since its founding, including Freedom Day, Second Independence Day, Jubilee Day, and Emancipation Day. It has grown to include a variety of activities to celebrate the historical milestone, including rodeos, baseball games, guest speakers, prayer services, and barbeque pits. In the past, there were laws that restricted the ability of slaves to wear new clothes, so a tradition grew of wearing new clothing on Juneteenth as a sign of freedom.
On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed is a newly released book that details the origins of Juneteenth and the challenges that African-Americans faced during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. It can be checked out at the Heartland Cooperative. Other recommendations include:
Well-read Black Girl edited by Glory Edim
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Stony the Road by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Visit the Heartland Cooperative’s website at myhlc.org, and keep up to date with information about the library on the Highlands County Board of Commissioners facebook page.