Many people raising their arms with a fist

History of Juneteenth

This past Saturday, America celebrated Juneteenth (June 19th) for the first time as a federal holiday. However, the day has importance beyond just being a holiday when Americans get a day off. Its history goes back over 100 years.

Slavery was common in America even before America became a country. Wealthy, white plantation owners traded slaves like products. There were auctions where slaves brought to the United States from Africa would be bought and sold. Slaves were then forced to work in inhumane conditions, developing a country where they had no rights.

The issue of slavery led to the Civil War. The Civil War was fought between the north and south, with the north being the Union and the south being the Confederacy. The north wanted to make slavery illegal, but the south wanted to keep slavery. President Abraham Lincoln declared all slaves in the Confederacy as free in 1862, during the war. This declaration is known as the Emancipation Proclamation.

However, the world at the time did not have fast communication like the computers we have today.News and information spread slowly. It was only on June 19, 1865 that all slaves in the Confederacy learned of their freedom. On June 19, 1865 an Army general, Gordon Granger, arrived in Texas to tell slaves of their freedom.

It is important to note that slavery in the United States ended with the 13th Amendment, not the Emancipation Proclamation. This was because President Lincoln declared slaves in the Confederacy free, not slaves in the Union free as well. The 13th Amendment made slavery illegal in December 1865.

The name “Juneteenth” comes from the date that slaves in Texas learned of their freedom: June + nineteenth. The day has been celebrated since 1866, and recognizes the inhumane struggles that Black Americans endured during slavery, and after slavery with systemic racism like Jim Crow laws and mass incarceration.

While the day was already a holiday in many states, it became a federal holiday in 2021. A law declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday was passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden. Congress passed the law with almost every politician voting yes, except for 14 Republicans. However, Juneteenth is only a federal holiday, because of the work of activists like Opal Lee who worked hard to get support for it.

Vocabulary

EnglishEspañol
JuneteenthDiecinueve de Junio (Juneteenth)
federal holidaydia feriado federal
slaveryla esclavitud
plantation ownerdueños de plantaciones
auctionsubastas
inhumane conditionscondiciones inhumanas
rightsderechos civiles
Civil Warla Guerra Civil
illegalilegal
Emancipation ProclamationDeclaración de Emancipación
freedomlibertad
13th AmendmentDecimotercero Amendamiento
to celebratecelebrar
strugglelucha
systemic racismracismo sistématico
lawla ley
politicianrepresentantes políticos
activistactivistas

Sources

Image: @claybanks

“10 Facts: The Emancipation Proclamation.” American Battlefield Trust, 29 Apr. 2021, www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/10-facts-emancipation-proclamation.

Gates, Henry Louis. “What Is Juneteenth?” African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 19 Sept. 2013, www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-is-juneteenth/.

Karni, Annie, and Luke Broadwater. “Biden Signs Law Making Juneteenth a Federal Holiday.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 June 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/06/17/us/politics/juneteenth-holiday-biden.html.

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