The observance of Juneteenth began as a uniquely Texan celebration, marking the day in 1865 when Gen. Gordon Granger announced to the state that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Communication was incredibly sluggish in that era, especially when compared to the technology we have today. But for that era, the news spread quickly among the more than 250,000 slaves throughout Texas.
“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer,” Granger announced.
In the years since, Juneteenth has been adopted by residents of many other states, along with many other nations, as Texans relocated and took the tradition of a June 19 celebration with them. As a result, Juneteenth is no longer a solely Texan event. It remains, for many however, a uniquely African-American event. But like all celebrations of decisive moments of liberty throughout world history, all people who cherish freedom can understand the excitement.
Juneteenth is more than just a day on which Texans recognize the announcement of the end of America’s repressive period of slavery. It is also a day on which all Americans can honor the declaration of equality espoused by the nation’s founding fathers that took generations to become law, and which free men and women everywhere continue to seek for everyone. The measures of progress come slowly — too slowly — because attitudes of people don’t change overnight. But they are changing, and evidence of that is spread throughout the daily news report.
In remembering the first Juneteenth in 1865, those observing it understand that what has taken place in history has everything to do with what is happening in the present, and that achievements toward liberty for all must serve as the foundation for the future. In this way, we move forward, and fulfill the promise that those who shaped the destiny of the United States intended, with equal treatment, equal rights and equal opportunity. That’s worthy of celebrating in this nation, if anything is.