Why Black America celebrates Juneteenth

By: Alyssa Wilson

While most of the country identifies July 4 as Independence Day, Black America understands that our enslaved ancestors weren’t free on July 4, 1776.  

After George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were murdered, many companies and organizations began honoring Juneteenth in response to America’s “racial reckoning.” But the celebrations of Black freedom and liberation began way before white America caught on.  

RELATED: Juneteenth: A day of joy and pain – and now national action 

While Independence Day celebrates the formal adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the document’s phrasing of “All men are created equal” did not include Black people. In fact, those Black people were still enslaved at the time.  

Historians believe slavery began in North America as early as the 1500s, but the first documented arrival was in 1619, when colonists brought enslaved Africans to the Jamestown colony. Two hundred forty-four years later, in 1863, the country’s enslaved African Americans gathered on January 1 to await the news that the Emancipation Proclamation was in effect.  

At that time, enslaved Americans in the Confederate States were declared free, but freedom did not come soon enough for everyone. In the Confederate state of Texas, Black Americans were still enslaved until June 19, 1865, when Union troops finally arrived to announce that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black Americans were declared free. The soldiers read General Orders No. 3, which communicated the news, stated, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”  

RELATED: Oregon set to observe Juneteenth as an official state holiday 

The date June 19 became known as Juneteenth by the formerly enslaved Black Americans. In 1979, Texas became the first state to make it an official holiday. Today, every state except South Dakota recognizes it as a holiday or observance, or is in the process of doing so. It became a federal holiday on June 17, 2021. 

If you or someone you know is struggling from trauma triggered by this story, resources are available here. 

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