A pivotal moment in American history occurred on June 19, 1865. Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is the oldest known commemoration date for the abolition of slavery in the United States.  Rudy Jean-Bart, interim associate dean, Academic Affairs, provided his understanding of Juneteenth's history, impact, and how to celebrate this significant day.

Understanding the History

Federal forces arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the goal of assuring the freedom of all enslaved people. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a Civil War executive order, more than two years prior. “The Emancipation Proclamation is widely misunderstood,” Jean-Bart said. “Many people believe that its passing freed all slaves, but that is not the case,” Jean-Bart explained. The Proclamation's directives were to be immediately implemented by Union forces, including troops. However, because the number of Union troops in Texas was low, slavery in the state remained largely unaffected.

On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger, Union General of the Civil War, read General Order No.3, which stated, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Professor Rudy Jean-BartSoon after, celebrations began, including barbeques, prayer services, music, and public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation. “There was a joyful feeling in the air. The formerly enslaved were eager to celebrate their freedom,” Jean-Bart said, adding that annual celebrations lasted until the early 1900s. Juneteenth festivities declined in the early twentieth century due to economic and political circumstances. “What we’re experiencing today is a rebirth of Juneteenth celebrations, due to movements like Black Lives Matter,” Jean-Bart said.

A Lasting Impact

Individuals who were formerly enslaved were granted rights of U.S. citizenship, including the ability to marry legally and acquire land. However, due to a lack of resources, such as land and money, many were obliged to remain on the premises of their prior owners. This gave rise to sharecropping, a system in which a landowner allows a tenant to utilize their land in exchange for a share of the crops grown there. According to Jean-Bart, some sharecropping agreements were established unfairly, resulting in the landowners profiting the most.

Although Juneteenth occurred 156 years ago, its profound effects can still be felt today. “As the parent of a four-year-old boy, I frequently notice him doing little kid things and reflect on those who came before me. Consider all of the world-changing doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and authors who have ancestors who were affected by Juneteenth and slavery.” Jean-Bart shared.

How to Celebrate

Hosting a barbecue or attending a parade are just two of the many ways to commemorate Juneteenth. Eating red delicacies, such as red velvet cake or strawberry soda, is also customary as red has long been associated with perseverance and resilience. Another way to honor Juneteenth is to learn more about the holiday's history. The following is a list of resources to help you learn more about the date.


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