By Jackie Hampton,
As The United States of America celebrates Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday, though practically everyone understands why we celebrate New Year’s day, Dr. King’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and even Independence Day, (4th of July) many might still ask the question, what is Juneteenth or why has it been declared a national federal holiday?
Juneteenth marks our country’s second Independence Day. Although it has long been celebrated in the African-American community, this monumental event remains largely unknown to most Americans.
The Mississippi Link has compiled a few facts so that our readers can understand the history of Juneteenth. One of our main sources of information comes from The National Museum of African American History & Culture.
On July 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order that declared enslaved people in the rebelling Confederate State legally free. However, the decree would not take effect until the clock struck midnight at the start of the new year.
On “Freedom’s Eve,” or the eve of January 1, 1863, the first historical legacy of what is known as ‘Watch Night’ services took place. On that night, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes all across the country awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect.
At the stroke of midnight, prayers were answered, as all enslaved people in Confederate States were declared legally free. Union soldiers, many of whom were black, marched onto plantations and across cities in the south reading small copies of the Emancipation Proclamation spreading the news of freedom in Confederate States. Only through the Thirteenth Amendment did emancipation end slavery throughout the United States.
However, not everyone in Confederate territory would immediately be free. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until much later.
Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth,” by the newly freed people in Texas.
The post-emancipation period known as Reconstruction (1865-1877) marked an era of great hope, uncertainty, and struggle for the nation as a whole. Formerly enslaved people immediately sought to reunify families, establish schools, run for political office, push radical legislation and even sue slaveholders for compensation. Given the 200+ years of enslavement, such changes were nothing short of amazing. Not even a generation out of slavery, African Americans were inspired and empowered to transform their lives and their country.
It was June 18, 2021 that a Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observance was declared from the White House. Joe Biden, the nation’s 46th U.S. President, took the following actions:
He said, “On June 19, 1865, nearly nine decades after our Nation’s founding, and more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received word that they were free from bondage. As those who were formerly enslaved were recognized for the first time as citizens, Black Americans came to commemorate Juneteenth with celebrations across the country, building new lives and a new tradition that we honor today. In its celebration of freedom, Juneteenth is a day that should be recognized by all Americans. And that is why I am proud to have consecrated Juneteenth as our newest national holiday. Juneteenth is a day of profound weight and power.
“A day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country, what I’ve long called America’s original sin. A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity.
“But it is a day that also reminds us of our incredible capacity to heal, hope, and emerge from our darkest moments with purpose and resolve.
“As I said on the 100th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, great nations don’t ignore the most painful chapters of their past. Great nations confront them. We come to terms with them.
“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 posåsibility. 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.
“There is still more work to do. As we emerge from the long, dark winter of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, racial equity remains at the heart of our efforts to vaccinate the Nation and beat the virus. We must recognize that Black Americans, among other people of color, have shouldered a disproportionate burden of loss – while also carrying us through disproportionately as essential workers and health care providers on the front lines of the crisis.
“Psalm 30 proclaims that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and discrimination, and the promise of a brighter morning to come. My Administration is committed to building an economy – and a Nation – that brings everyone along, and finally delivers our Nation’s founding promise to Black Americans. Together, we will lay the roots of real and lasting justice, so that we can become the extraordinary country that was promised to all Americans.
“Juneteenth not only commemorates the past. It calls us to action today.
“NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 19, 2021, as Juneteenth Day of Observance. I call upon the people of the United States to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of Black Americans, and commit together to eradicate systemic racism that still undermines our founding ideals and collective prosperity.
“IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.” JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.”
For more information on Juneteenth visit: https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/historical-legacy-juneteenth
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