Understanding the Importance of Juneteenth Kids News Article

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. (fs.usda.gov)

On Sunday, June 19, 2022, Americans will observe Father’s Day and Juneteenth, the country’s youngest federal holiday. Officially recognized in 2021, it commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It was on this day in 1865 that the last slave people – a group in Texas – were notified that slavery had been done illegal and that they were free.

The events that led to this historical The day began with the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The document – issued during the American Civil War (1861-1865) – freed millions of slaves in the 11 Confederate States of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. But the law did not apply to the slaves of the border States that remained loyal to the Union. This included Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware and Maryland. 13 Amendment – passed by the U.S. Congress on January 31, 1865 – closed the loophole and abolished slavery throughout the country.

Areas covered by the Emancipation Proclamation are in red. Uncovered slavery areas are in blue. (Derivative work: SFGiants, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)

The two acts freed all but 250,000 of Texas’ slaves, who had heard only unconfirmed rumors about the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. They were not freed until General Gordon Granger of the Union Army announced the decree in Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865.

Juneteenth was born the following year when the ancient slaves celebrated the first anniversary of their freedom with communal barbecues, dancing and prayers. Over the years, Emancipation Day or Black Independence Day – as it is also known – has been observed to varying degrees in several states and was even declared a holiday in Texas in 1980.

A band playing in Texas for Emancipation Day in 1900. (Mrs. Charles Stephenson (Grace Murray)/Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons)

But the holidays have really started to gain national notoriety in 2020 among nationwide protests against police abuse of African Americans. This, together with the growing awareness of systemic racism in corporate America, has led companies like Twitter and Nike to make Juneteenth a paid holiday in 2021. The governors of New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania have also declared it a holiday for employees of the State.

Whereas encouraging, it wasn’t enough for a 95 year old man activist Opal Lee, who had been to make a campaign make June 16 a national holiday for more than four decades. The Fort Worth, Texas resident had stepped up her efforts since 2018 with a 2.5-mile walk down West Lancaster Avenue every June 16. The distance symbolized the almost 2.5 years it took slaves in Texas to realize they had been freed. In 2021, the “Juneteenth grandmother” took her cause online with a petition on Change.org, garnering 1.5 million signatures.

President Joe Biden signed into law the June 17 National Independence Day Act on June 17, 2021. (The White House/ Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons)

His efforts finally paid off on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed into law a measure making June 19, or June 16, a federal holiday. It was the first nationally approved holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. Lee, who was invited to the White House to attend the important occasion, hope the holiday will become a national day unity.

“Juneteenth is not a black thing, and it’s not a Texas thing,” she said. “People everywhere, no matter what nationality, we are all bleeding red blood.”

Resources: USAtoday.com, Wikipedia.com, abcnews.go.com, cbsnews.com