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What is Juneteenth?

I’ll admit I didn’t know. I hadn’t heard of it until a couple years ago, and when I did, I thought it was something newfangled. It wasn’t that I didn’t care. I just didn’t know. So I read up on it, and now I do.

Juneteenth is a combination of the words, “June” and “nineteenth.” Like the Fourth of July, the name itself refers to the date of the holiday.

It’s based on an order given by U.S. Major General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865. The order began with these words: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

You may already have questions. Why June? Didn’t the Confederacy fall in April? Wasn’t the Emancipation Proclamation issued two years before? And why Texas?

Well, there are answers. Yes, the main Confederate army surrendered in April, but for other contingents, the fighting went on for a couple months. The Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, but it was issued amid war, and it didn’t apply to the border states that had not seceded. Although Texas was one of the seceding states, it was the farthest one out, and many slaveowners retreated there as the Union army advanced. And, of course, 1865 was not 2020. There was no instant communication, and news traveled slowly.

So Juneteenth marks the liberation of the last remaining slaves in the United States.

One year later, in 1866, the newly-freed men and women of Texas—Americans, all—began celebrating the day.

And in time, Texas became the first state to make it an official holiday.

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