June 19 marks the annual holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. While the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and read federal orders that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free. Juneteenth—a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth”—is a declaration of liberation and has been celebrated by African Americans since 1866.
Juneteenth seems more poignant and necessary than ever. It serves as a reminder that, to quote political activist Angela Y. Davis, “Freedom is a constant struggle.” More importantly, though, Juneteenth should be a day of celebration—a recognition of Black resilience, Black journeys, and Black accomplishments.
Juneteenth is considered by some as a holiday that’s observed exclusively by the Black community. But it shouldn’t be; President Barack Obama declared it a national day of observance in 2014. The history of Juneteenth is American history—and history that we all should know.
As Karlos Hill, a professor of African and African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma asserts, Juneteenth is a necessary moment of observation. “Our nation and culture has not really acknowledged the trauma of four million enslaved people and their descendants. It hasn’t acknowledged the impact this institution has had on this country and continues to have on this country. There hasn’t been a national accounting, and I think the Juneteenth holiday is kind of a reminder of that.” Juneteenth isn’t the “other” Independence Day—it is Independence Day.
Check out books about Juneteenth—here’s a list that will appeal to folks young and old. Watch a PBS special or Miss Juneteenth which illuminate the significance of the holiday.