According to PBS, on June 19th, 1865, two months after the Civil War officially ended, Major General Gordon Granger sent a proclamation to Texas establishing that the state was under Union rule and that therefore, Texan slaves needed to be freed. That day became the first Juneteenth, and now, more than 150 years later, the holiday remains the biggest celebration of emancipation in the United States.
But as you might remember from history class, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, two years before Granger’s declaration. So why did it take so long for emancipation to happen in Texas?
As NBC notes, the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to Confederate states, but as president of the Union, Lincoln couldn’t actually force these states to abandon the practice. As the war progressed and more Confederate states bowed to the Union, slave owners moved west with their slaves. By 1865, there were 250,000 human beings still in chains in Texas. Following Granger’s order, some plantation owners refused to share the news with their slaves and forced them to keep working even after they were technically liberated.
Today, Smithsonian.com notes that 39 states and Washington, D.C. acknowledge Juneteenth. Though the day is marked with parades in many places, it’s still not recognized as a formal national holiday. However, a resolution has been introduced in Congress to change that. According to Juneteenth.com, Texas declared it an official state holiday in 1980.
Juneteenth reminds us of a crucial moment in American history, and, frankly, we all should be celebrating.