Juneteenth: United States’ Second Independence Day

You may not have heard of Juneteenth, and that is not surprising. In a poll put out by the New York Times last year (2021) after the announcement of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, over 60% of Americans knew “nothing at all” or only “a little bit” about Juneteenth. Ignorance of Juneteenth is by design. This landmark day is arguably one of the most important moments of American history, but recognizing this holiday means acknowledging the deception that is rooted within our history.

Today is one of two Independence Days in the United States. That is correct – Juneteenth, short for June 19th, is the celebration of over 250,000 individuals who were still enslaved in Texas, after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, learning of the freedom they were to have been granted over two years earlier.  While sending messages in the 1800s took longer than it does today, the more likely theory of why it took so long for the enslaved people to learn of their freedom was because Texas slave-owners purposefully withheld the information.  To add to the trauma of this already difficult fact, in 1863, rather than being granted freedom, many enslaved individuals from the Confederate states had been transported to Texas to “hide them and keep them from freedom”. 

Two months after the end of the Civil War in 1865, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas where he read General Order Number Three. This order was the official announcement to the people of Texas that they had been freed (via the Emancipation Proclamation). Celebration broke out upon hearing the news and as the enslaved people gained freedom, Juneteenth was born and became an annual celebration.  Note that the 13th amendment, which enshrined the end of slavery in the Constitution, was not ratified until nearly six months later, in December of 1865.

It was not until 1980 that Juneteenth was recognized as a state holiday in Texas, and it was not until one year ago, in 2021, that Juneteenth finally became federally recognized.  Even in 2022, we are still witnessing the impact of writing history books to omit important pieces of Black history.

Changing the narrative of this historical erasure means admitting that systemic racism is still present in the United States.  If you did not know about Juneteenth until recently, you are not alone.  This leads us to the question of, “What can we do to make sure this lack of understanding doesn’t continue?” Below are several ideas for how to share this information:

We encourage you to journal about your experience learning about Juneteenth, whether you grew up celebrating, learned about it in grade school, or found out about it for the first time recently. Let’s change the narrative of systemic racism and begin bringing awareness to the aspects of history that have long been erased.