The history behind June 19

Published June 17, 2020

Juneteenth marks “Freedom Day," when on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger read The Emancipation Proclamation that officially had abolished slavery two and a half years earlier, saying “all slaves are free.” Originating in Galveston, Texas, the day, which is also referred to as "Emancipation Day," is celebrated across the U.S. Although slavery was abolished in 1863, the proclamation was not acknowledged in Texas for another two years. Official Juneteenth celebrations were held in 1866.

Parallels can be drawn from what is happening today to 155 years ago, according to a statement from Cal State Long Beach’s Black Faculty and Staff Community.

The Civil War forced Americans "to confront the ramifications of racial inequality and put into place reforms to align with its professed values," they said.

"We find ourselves in the same position where we must confront racial inequality in 2020, and pressure our national, state, and local leaders to enact sustainable reform in our social and legislative policies. We honor Juneteenth to uplift those who have suffered by the hands of racial violence and police brutality from the enslaved to Emmett Till to George Floyd, and the countless others with no voice. We honor Juneteenth to encourage and support those who are on the frontlines of protests today.

They added, "As we reflect on Juneteenth, the hope is that we bring awareness to this monumental day as we challenge racism and call for change. We will continue to celebrate the historical contributions of African Americans."

The significance of Juneteenth

Didn’t Abraham Lincoln free the slaves in 1863?

When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, it established that the nation’s 3 million slaves in Confederate states “shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.” Although the proclamation made slavery illegal, many slave owners continued to hold slaves captive. The proclamation only applied to places under Confederate control and not border states or rebel areas under Union control.

Did Granger free the slaves in 1865?

Granger’s arrival in Galveston in the spring of 1865 signaled the end of the war and freedom for Texas’ 250,000 slaves.

Why was slavery still an issue in Texas?

Texas had continued slavery because many slave owners from the South saw the state as a refuge and moved there to escape the fighting.

When were slaves officially freed?

In December 1865, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.

Is Juneteenth a national holiday?

No, but there is a push to make it a national holiday. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) plans to introduce legislation this week that would designate it a national holiday. Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official state holiday, while Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam recently announced plans to introduce legislation to make Juneteenth a paid holiday in his state. Today, 46 states, including California, and the District of Columbia, commemorate the day. California began observing June 19 in 2003.

How is Juneteenth celebrated?

The day is marked with picnics, parades, prayer gatherings, historical readings and musical performances.