The History of Juneteenth
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery, Sept. 22, 1862, and it became official Jan. 1, 1863. However, it took two-and-a-half years for Union soldiers, to arrive in Galveston, Texas, with news that enslaved people had been freed. Historians are still examining that period in history and have identified a few possible reasons, all grounded in racism, that allowed slavery to continue past its official end.
The following proclamation was read: “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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
This declaration of freedom was significant, even if the realities for formerly enslaved people were still brutal and uncertain. A wave of migration began, to reunify families torn apart and to relocate to the industrialized North. According to the National Registry of Juneteenth Organizations & Supporters, Juneteenth first became a major celebration and gathering of families in Texas, with many formerly enslaved people journeying back to Galveston in the decades following the proclamation. The color red became associated with Juneteenth, to represent the resilience of formerly enslaved people.
The goal of Juneteenth is to commemorate the historical emancipation of enslaved people, but also to advance equity for Black Americans, who still do not experience true freedom as they encounter barriers to safety, health, financial, education and social justice. Opportunities abound for making equity a year-round commitment.
Juneteenth provides the opportunity to reflect and engage in several ways: Celebrate the many achievements of African Americans and their contributions toward the building of our nation; Learn more about the history of the Emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth; Engage in dialogue with co-workers and community members; Assess where you are on the journey of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.