Today is particularly important for the history of racial injustice and slavery in the US, as the day marks the official end of slavery.
The historic event that we celebrate, referred to as Juneteenth, commemorates June 19th 1865, when the last remaining enslaved black people in Texas were formally notified of their emancipation. Arriving in Texas, US Army General Granger announced: "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free". However, slavery had already been abolished two years prior by President Lincoln in a presidential order titled the Emancipation Proclamation.
Does this mean that the slaves were already freed and just weren't aware of it? No, not exactly. The order was issued during the Civil War and so didn't apply to the Confederate states of the south. The Proclamation was also a Presidential Order rather than a Congress-passed law. In January 1865 the 13th Amendment came into effect, officially abolishing slavery. When the war was over, the army came to the south and informed the last remaining slaves of their freedom.
Even though Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t enforceable yet, it set the course for future legislative change and shifted what the war stood for. It was no longer only about restoring the Union - it was about freedom.
Juneteenth is celebrated every year in most US states (apart from Hawaii, North and South Dakota) as a national holiday, but isn't yet recognized as a federal holiday. Texas is the first state to have declared it a state holiday. The celebrations historically included barbecue pits, strawberry sodas, rodeos, and baseball. Usually, there were guest speakers or priests focusing on themes of self-improvement and freedom.
Sadly, the end of slavery did not put an end to racial injustice and the oppression of black people in the United States. For a hundred years after the Proclamation, the previously enslaved citizens lived in freedom, but were still discriminated against by the system. Almost 100 years later laws were passed allowing black citizens to vote, share facilities with whites, and have equal access to housing.
Racial discrimination towards black people is not a thing of the past. To this day, they face obstacles getting access to equal healthcare and education and are disproportionately targeted by police. The brutal death of George Floyd sparked a worldwide wave of Black Lives Matters peaceful movements.
Racism and racial discrimination against black people and other minorities is not an exclusively US issue. All countries around the world have different levels of implied biases and prejudice. It is up to us to constantly educate ourselves and those around us about these problems.
The above is just a short summary of a few facts related to the history of Juneteenth. We encourage you to read further about the wider issues of racism against blacks. Here are some recommended resources:
Talking About Race; how to become actively anti-racist and support people who are discriminated based on their race (Guide by National Museum of African American History and Culture)
Juneteenth - a podcast episode about the holiday and its historical significance
How We Can Make Racism a Solvable Problem - TED talk by Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff
Code Switch - an NPR podcast focusing on race, culture, and ethnicity in our daily lives
So You Want to Talk About Race - New York times best seller book by Ijeoma Oluo
Is Everybody a Racist? - AEON article by Princess Ojiaku about the deadly consequences of unconscious racism
Credits for the Ashton villa picture: Jim Evans