Juneteenth Part 1 of 3: Did You Know? 

Like much of African American history, the road to understanding, acknowledging, and celebrating Juneteenth has been a hard-fought battle.

Three months after rebellious Southern states refused to relent to the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This happened in a moment millions had been praying for at Watch Night events on New Year’s Eve, 1862, in anticipation of what Frederick Douglass called, “the glorious morning of liberty about to dawn upon us.”

Waiting for the Hour, Carte-de-visite of an emancipation watch night meeting 1863. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

It would take more than two years and a devastating Civil War for that dawn to finally arrive. Even with the ending of the Civil War on April 9, 1865, states such as Texas continued to engage in military battles, and slave owners fought to retain their “property” until May, when Major General Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston, T.X., delivering news of emancipation.

Juneteenth celebrates the June 19, 1865 issuance of General Order No. 3, a four-sentence order, that radically broke with our nation’s history and culture, and declared, “all slaves are free.”

As Annette Gordon-Reed, author of On Juneteenth, put it, this order not only declared slaves free, but it “announced a state of affairs that completely contravened the racial and economic ideas,” upon which America was built, by declaring “an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”

While the United States delivered on its promise to end slavery with the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865, there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve absolute equality across our nation.

Article by Amy Schlag, Equity and Inclusion Specialist at the City of Wilmington.  This is part one of a three-part series.

Juneteenth has never been a celebration of victory, or an acceptance of the way things are. It’s a celebration of progress. It’s an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible—and there is still so much work to do.”

President Barack Obama
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