NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Juneteenth, or Black Independence Day, is the day our nation commemorates the de facto end of slavery in the United States.
Texans have celebrated the day for 155 years, but this year — as the world joins America protesting and speaking out about racial injustice — the observance has grown larger and has an added importance.
It was on June 19, 1865 when Union soldiers told enslaved African Americans in Galveston that the Civil War had ended and they were free. The war had actually ended in April, but that information wasn’t readily disseminated to African Americans.
President Abraham Lincoln had actually issued the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, on January 1, 1863 — declaring that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free,” — but it didn’t apply in Texas, which was a secessionist state that left the Union and joined the Confederacy during the Civil War.
When Major General Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston with the news there were approximately 250,000 people still being held in slavery.
Granger delivered General Order No. 3 from the balcony of the Ashton Villa, which said: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
Now, after weeks of protests against systemic racism circling the globe, a number of prominent businesses in the U.S. including Twitter, Nike, Mastercard, Google and Target have designated June 19 a company holiday.
As those steps in the private sector continue, the push to make Juneteenth a national holiday is gaining momentum. Supporters say the commemoration would spur conversation about the origins of America’s racial and political conflicts, and shine a light on white supremacy and its manifestations in policies and political actions.
The Texas Senate passed a resolution designating June 19, 2020 as “Juneteenth Independence Day”. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have called for their respective legislatures to make the day a state holiday. In Texas, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Houston, is introducing a bill that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
“We are just very pleased at the number of co-sponsors and members who are interested in being supportive, and the resolution that we already introduced, we have 204 co-sponsors,” Jackson-Lee said. “It’s delayed freedom, but it is the only recognition of the original sin of this nation.”
Sen. John Cornyn says he will also introduce bipartisan legislation to do the same.
Supporters say they’d like for Juneteenth to be viewed similarly to July 4th — as a celebration of freedom for all.