When people think of independence in America, they usually think of the 4th of July, the day the United States adopted the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Hardly a thought is given to the fact that many of those who signed the document were, in fact, slaveholders. On June 19, 1865, 89 years after the Declaration of Independence, and two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed all enslaved people in the rebellious territories, the remaining legally enslaved people of Texas were given their freedom.
On that day, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas received the news of their freedom from Major General Gordon Granger who arrived with 2,000 Federal soldiers to establish a union presence to inform the enslaved people that they were legally freed people—the Civil War had ended. Thus, Juneteenth was born.
Juneteenth has been celebrated over the years with parades, picnics, and large family gatherings. These celebrations include lots of entertainment and great food with red velvet cake being a staple to represent the bloodshed and resilience of the enslaved people.
In 1980, Texas officially recognized the day as a state holiday with “partial staffing.” In 2020, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey officially recognized the holiday with paid leave for state employees. Last month, Washington also has officially recognized Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees. Many companies such as Nike, Citigroup, and Twitter have made Juneteenth a paid holiday for employees.
As with much that has to do with the relationship of Black Americans and the country we helped build without compensation, Juneteenth is bittersweet. It’s indicative of how difficult the forces we battle have been and continue to be just for us to simply claim our humanity. It is also indicative of our passion for life and our resiliency. In many ways, the fight for freedom continues.
Until it is fully achieved, we will remember the ancestors who persevered under the harshest of circumstances and celebrate Juneteenth as Independence Day for all Americans.