Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day or Emancipation Day, is a U.S. holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans following the Civil War. While Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, had freed all slaves, the news took time to travel throughout the states and was difficult to enforce. Finally on June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with Union troops to announce, via General Order No. 3, the end of the Civil War and freedom for all enslaved people. The news was met with jubilation and celebration by the newly freed population and became an annual day of remembrance.
Over the years, the inconsistent observation of June 19th has been influenced by the social and political climate of the time as well as the ability of workers to get time off work. Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth an official state holiday on January 1, 1980. Since then, many states have followed suit. It gained national recognition on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden made it a federal holiday.
Celebrations of Juneteenth started as family gatherings and prayer meetings. Over the years, it has evolved into picnics, festivals, and parades, which include barbecues, family reunions, and historical re-enactments. In the beginning, segregation made gathering difficult, so celebrations occurred in churches or near water where large groups of African Americans could congregate safely. In 1872, black leaders in Houston, Texas, raised funds to purchase land specifically to celebrate Juneteenth—Emancipation Park still exists today. June 19th is now a paid holiday for many state employees and some private organizations, including International Ministries; other organizations may recognize it in other ways.
Juneteenth not only celebrates the end of slavery in the U.S., but also celebrates the contributions made by African Americans. As we commemorate Juneteenth this Sunday, may it give us an understanding of our history, inspiration to continue engaging in our current battle for civil rights, and hope for a better future.
Author Darshana Chetti is the daughter of Dr. Samuel Chetti, CEO/Executive Minister Emeritus of ABCOFLASH, and the niece of IM global servants to Lebanon, Dan and Sarah Chetti.