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The Beginning of Juneteenth
has roots as far back as January 1st, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and declared slavery to be outlawed. Enforcement of the proclamation relied on Union troops but faced continued rebel resistance due to the Civil War that was still waging in the country. On April 9th, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant ending the Civil War. For months, the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation and the surrender struggled to make an effect on the south, specifically Texas, due to too few Union troops being available to enforce the orders.
Commanding Officer Granger was given command of the Department of Texas on June 10th, 1865, and set out for Galveston to handle the enforcement. As Granger came ashore on June 19th, he ordered his soldiers to travel throughout the town and countryside, demanding slaveholders to free their enslaved blacks immediately. Although there is some debate on whether or not Granger made a public ceremony, it is widely accepted the announcement created many joyful displays by the recently freed enslaved blacks.
Following these events, the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery nationwide on December 6th, 1865. This date was viewed as the end of slavery by a majority of the country. However, In 2007, State Representative Al Edwards, now known as the Father of Juneteenth, became the primary advocate to approve Juneteenth as a state holiday in Texas. Prior to 2007, many Black Americans celebrated the date since the late 1800s but there was no federal or state recognition.
The holiday has gone by many different names through the decades including “Jubilee Day”, “Emancipation Day”, “Freedom Day”, and “Black Independence Day” but finally reached national presence as “Juneteenth” starting in 2019. Other states such as New Hampshire (2019), New York (2020), and New Jersey (2020) also began to recognize Juneteenth creating a movement to adopt the date as a national holiday.
A New Era
Starting in 2020 many major brands such as Twitter, Square, Vox Media, Nike, the N.F.L., Best Buy, and Target made announcements to recognize the holiday, making the celebration a paid day off. In 2021, President Joe Biden declared June 19th a federal holiday, Juneteenth, allowing everyone an opportunity to educate, celebrate, and connect. What makes this holiday’s announcement even more profound is that it is the first nationally recognized holiday since MLK Day in 1983.
People of Influence
Some of the most influential people related to Juneteenth include the United States Colored Troops who responded to the Union's call to arms. President Lincoln even recognized the tremendous efforts of these troops and was quoted "Without the military help of the black freedmen, the war against the South could not have been won".
Al Edwards Sr.
State Representative, Hon. Albert Ely Edwards was born in Houston, Texas on March 19, 1937. At the age of forty-one, Edwards entered politics and was elected to the Texas State Legislature from Houston’s House District 146. His first major goal was to ensure the establishment of a holiday that recognized the emancipation of slavery. In 1979, legislation recognizing Juneteenth Day, initiated by Edwards, passed the Texas State Legislature and was signed into law. This feat earned Edwards the title of the "Father of Juneteenth".
Al Edwards Sr. passed away on April 29, 2020.
Ms. Opal Lee
Another more modern influential advocate for Juneteenth is Mrs. Opal Lee. Mrs. Lee is a Texan born in 1926 who fondly remembers celebrating Juneteenth with her family growing up. She became a teacher, counselor, and activist in the movement to make Juneteenth a federally-recognized holiday. One of her greatest accomplishments was conducting a walk from Fort Worth to Washington to plead with congress to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday. What makes the feat even more impressive is that she was 89 years old at the time of the walk, dubbing her the nickname “Grandmother of Juneteenth”.
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