- Henry Louis Gates
What is Juneteenth?
When Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued the above order, he had no idea that, in establishing the Union Army’s authority over the people of Texas, he was also establishing the basis for a holiday, “Juneteenth” (“June” plus “nineteenth”), today the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States. After all, by the time Granger assumed command of the Department of Texas, the Confederate capital in Richmond had fallen; the “Executive” to whom he referred, President Lincoln, was dead; and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was well on its way to ratification.
Responding to this new energy, in 1979 Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. (Ironically, the bill was passed on June 7, the anniversary of Homer Plessy’s arrest on the East Louisiana line, as covered in Plessy v Ferguson: Who Was Plessy.) Leading the charge was Rep. Al Edwards of Houston, often referred to as “the father of the Juneteenth holiday,” who framed it as a “source of strength” for young people, according to Hayes Turner. (As a concession to Lost Cause devotees, Texas reaffirmed its commitment to observing Jan. 19 as Confederate Heroes Day.)
Since then, 41 other states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday or holiday observance, including Rhode Island earlier this year. “This is similar to what God instructed Joshua to do as he led the Israelites into the Promised Land,” Al Edwards told Yahoo in 2007. “A national celebration of Juneteenth, state by state, serves a similar purpose for us. Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations. That’s why we need this holiday.”
Of all Emancipation Day observances, Juneteenth falls closest to the summer solstice (this Friday, June 21), the longest day of the year, when the sun, at its zenith, defies the darkness in every state, including those once shadowed by slavery. By choosing to celebrate the last place in the South that freedom touched — reflecting the mystical glow of history and lore, memory and myth, as Ralph Ellison evoked in his posthumous novel, Juneteenth — we remember the shining promise of emancipation, along with the bloody path America took by delaying it and deferring fulfillment of those simple, unanticipating words in Gen. Granger’s original order No. 3: that “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”
My hope this Juneteenth is that we never forget it.
FULL ARTICLE: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-is-juneteenth/