While the Day may bear many names, it singularly represents our country’s second Independence Day. Today, it continues to serve as an important day of celebration and reflection in the African-American community.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce to enslaved African-Americans that the Civil War had ended and they were now free. At the time of this announcement, it had been two and a half years since President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. However, the Emancipation Proclamation itself did not end slavery throughout the entire United States. Abraham Lincoln’s Executive Order only applied to the eleven Confederate states then at war against the Union and to the portion of those states not already under Union control.
It was the Thirteenth Amendment, passed by Congress in 1865, that abolished slavery throughout the entire United States. Texas was the last state in rebellion, following the end of the Civil War, to allow enslavement.
After the declaration of freedom in Texas and as early as 1866, Black Texans began celebrating annual Jubilee Day festivities which have now become commemorated as Juneteenth (June + nineteenth) festivities. The celebration has broadened to more than simply Texas and is celebrated throughout our country. While Texas was the first to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1980, many states have followed suit, including Virginia with its recent declaration of Juneteenth as a state holiday in acknowledgment of its significance as the end of slavery in the United States.
North Carolina has recognized Juneteenth as a National Freedom Day since 2007 and as recently as this week, Charlotte North Carolina’s Mayor signed a proclamation declaring June 19 as Juneteenth. The acknowledgment of the holiday is growing and with it, the awareness of the fight for freedom borne by African-Americans for many years.
With the pain that so many have endured from reports of murders like those of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and sadly others, the need for equality, freedom for all and the elimination of racism – systematic and otherwise – is paramount.
Freedom has been proclaimed to the African-American community at various times throughout U.S. history. It is impossible; however, to ignore in the face of worldwide protests the need to continue collective efforts toward true freedom – from discrimination, mistreatment, bias, and disparities in the African-American community.
May this year’s Juneteenth not only remind us of the joy of freedom and the power of the law to resurrect an entire group of people to equal standing, but may it also inspire us to continue pursuing true liberation for all members of the African-American community.
Gwendolyn W. Lewis practices in the area of general civil litigation with a focus on employment litigation and counsel, healthcare litigation and counsel, and business litigation. Well-versed in a full range of counseling and litigation issues for employers, she passionately advances the interests of her clients before state and federal courts and administrative agencies.