JACKSON, Wyo. — It took two and a half years for news of emancipation to reach the then small town of Galveston, Texas.
News finally arrived on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger carried word that the Civil War had ended and all slaves were free. The war itself did not end until two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, and enforcement was slow to reach more rural states, Texas especially. Some suggest that the news was deliberately withheld to maintain slavery for as long as possible. The 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery “except as punishment for a crime,” was not ratified for another seven months, on December 6 1865.
June 19 has since been regarded as a “day of Jubilee” and a day of independence for Black people in the United States. Texas recognized it as an official holiday in 1980. It goes by many names, including “Juneteenth,” “Jubilee Day,” and “Emancipation Day.” While July 4 is a nationally-recognized day of independence, many regard Juneteenth as a milestone toward Black liberation.
Juneteenth is not a new holiday. But neither is it one that many white people read about in history books. In June 2020 Black Lives Matter reclaimed the national spotlight in light of increasingly-documented incidents of police brutality against Black people, most notably the killing of George Floyd in police custody. Today, Black activists see Juneteenth as a reminder that “nobody is free until everybody is free,” as activist Fannie Lou Hamer famously said. It is a celebration of a milestone toward freedom, and an acknowledgment that true freedom for many is still hard-won.