ATLANTA — June 19 marks a pivotal point in American history. On June 19, 1865, the last slaves in Texas and more broadly the Confederate South were freed.
Nationally and in cities like Atlanta, the day has been celebrated with parades, plays and other festivities that honor the African-American culture that developed during and after slavery. With COVID-19 on the horizon, some of those events will not take place due to social distancing. Efforts like HellaJuneteenth, a California advocacy campaign, has invited folks to honor the holiday in a virtual space and by pushing to recognize the day as a national holiday.
Here are 6 answers to some of the questions posed about Juneteenth:
Didn’t the Emancipation Proclamation end slavery years earlier?
Yes and No. According to archives.gov, Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, declaring “on the first day of January … all p’ersons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
The proclamation only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery to remain unchallenged in the border states, according to archives.gov. It would take nearly two-and-half years for Lincoln’s proclamation to be relayed to Texas.
How did Juneteenth begin?
On June 19, 1865, Major Gen. Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas, to inform a reluctant community that President Abraham Lincoln two years earlier had freed the slaves and to press locals to comply with his directive. On this day, Granger announced “General Order No. 3.”
Before Granger’s declaration, there was an estimated 250,000 slaves residing in Texas, according to historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
What caused the delay in Texans receiving this news?
Some have noted that Texas geographic isolation may have played a role in the delay. According to Juneteenth.com, some accounts place the delay on a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news, while others say the news was deliberately withheld.
Even with the order, slavery did not end in Texas overnight, according to a report by Gates. Many slave owners traveled to Texas with their slaves to escape regulations enforced by the Union Army in other states for some time.
Why is it called Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is a combination of “June” and “nineteenth,” in honor of the day that Granger announced the abolition of slavery in Texas. The day is also called Freedom Day.
Is it a federal holiday?
Juneteenth is not a federal holiday, but many states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation recognizing the day as a holiday.On January 1, 1980, Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. Since then, 45 other states and the District of Columbia have also commemorated or recognized the day.
How will people honor Juneteenth?
Several companies have announced in light of the death of George Floyd that this year they are designating Juneteenth as an official company holiday. The step for entities like Vox, Twitter and Square, has been designated as a corporate effort to stand in solidarity with their black employees and the black community.
In the past, cities, including Atlanta, held parades, festivals and forums in celebration of the holiday. With the lingering coronavirus pandemic, many of those gatherings have been canceled. Still, many have took to social media to encourage those who honor the holiday to find their own ways to celebrate. Some have suggested that taking the day off, whether one’s company is honoring the holiday or not, is a way to commemorate that day in 1865.