By Jennifer Wishon
It was 155 years ago today that slaves along the Gulf Coast of Texas finally learned they were free. It’s a day that’s come to be known as Juneteenth and as America confronts race-relations, it’s becoming a much more important holiday to recognize, but many Americans don’t know much about it.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves in January of 1863.
Two and a half years later on June 19, 1865, the news finally reached Galveston, Texas, which at the time was the largest city in the Lone Star state.
Union General Gordon Granger read the order aloud, “all slaves are free” he announced from the county courthouse.
“Essentially slavery ended on that day,” says Hank Thierry with the Galveston Historical Foundation.
Newly freed people celebrated at their church.
“It’s really a story that Galveston has been trying to get out for years,” says Tommie Boudreaux, also with the Galveston Historical Foundation.
The day became known as Juneteenth.
“Juneteenth is actually the day that African-Americans celebrate their independence. So with all of the conversation around racial equality and justice in the United States, a lot of people are turning to Juneteenth as a symbol, as a way they can celebrate and honor the sacrifices that African-Americans have made,” says Jesse Holland, a historian at The George Washington University.
The police killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed have raised the holiday’s profile.
Now a number of businesses including Nike, Twitter, and Target are declaring it a holiday.
Some states are doing the same.
“I’m going to sign an executive order today, hence all my pens, recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) told reporters before a signing ceremony.
Inside the US Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered the removal of portraits of former speakers who were members of the Confederacy.
Today, 46 states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or day of recognition.
“So, this is why more and more people are talking about it, because, frankly a lot of people didn’t know it exists,” says Holland.