June 19 is observed as the holiday Juneteenth. The day commemorates one of the last groups of slaves to be read the Emancipation Proclamation in the months following the Civil War. Broadly, the day is a celebration of the formal end of slavery in the US.
The news of the proclamation reaching Galveston, Texas, was notable. Texas was the furthest slave-holding state to the West, and news was slow to travel in those days.
June 19, 1865, was the day a group of slaves in Galveston, Texas were read Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation, made in 1863 during the Civil War, informally freed all slaves in the US from bondage.
Southern states largely ignored the Proclamation, claiming the Confederacy need not heed American laws. However, it wouldn’t be until after the war, in January of 1865, that Congress formally added the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ending slavery in the US.
After the end of the war and the restoration of the Union, the Proclamation became the law of the land. Slaves across the South were read the Proclamation and granted freedom. Of course, things weren’t instantly better for black people in the US. The Reconstruction era, as well as the Jim Crow era, sowed the seeds for systematic inequality that is still felt today.
As a Holiday
Shortly following the 1865 reading of the Proclamation, the day became an informal holiday among former slaves in Texas. Union Army officials were needed to read the message, as slaveholding plantation owners wouldn’t have freed their slaves on anyone else’s authority. Union Army Major General Granger formally read the proclamation on June 19 in Galveston.
It’s rumored that the “teenth” suffix in Juneteenth refers to the differing dates that slaves would have been read the Proclamation throughout mid-June in 1865. Some may have heard the news on the 15 or 16, though others heard the news on June 19. To simplify things, legend has it, the name was shortened to Juneteenth.
Texas formally recognized the day as a holiday in 1980. Other states have slowly followed suit, though there are still a few that don’t formally recognize the holiday. Hawaii and South Dakota, for whatever reason, have not formally recognized the date as a holiday.
The observances of Juneteenth include barbeques, baseball games, and fishing, historically. In the modern era, observances can also include calls to educate people on black history and to agitate for social change. The singing of traditional songs and the reading of historical documents is also common on the holiday.