It’s finally happened! Freedom Day, also known as Juneteenth, has been signed into law as a Federal Holiday by President Joe Biden under the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 17. The law becomes effective, immediately. Finally, all Americans can rejoice and remember, commemorating slavery’s cessation in the U.S.
President Biden had this to say at a White House ceremony declaring the holiday earlier this week, “All Americans can feel the power of this day, and learn from our history.”
The bill passed by an overwhelming majority in both houses of Congress.
If you’re Black, or a part of the Black community, chances are that you’ve already heard of, and even celebrated Juneteenth. While many Americans have no clue what Juneteenth represents, in the future everyone will. This is our first new Federal Holiday in forty years, the last being Martin Luther King Day, celebrated on January 17 each year.
While the Civil War ended in 1865, freedom for former slaves did not occur all at once. Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19 to commemorate the freeing of slaves in Texas that happened in 1865 on that date. Juneteenth has been a state holiday in Texas in 1980, and is also a holiday for state employees of New York, Virginia, and Washington.
President Abraham Lincoln, in the Emancipation Proclamation, signed on September 22, 1862, stated that slavery will cease to be a legal institution after the new year, 1863. Unfortunately, this did not actually happen as quickly as many might have hoped.
Union Major General Gordon Granger announced General Order #3, which detailed the freeing of the slaves in Galveston, Texas, on the morning of June 19, 1865:
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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
By order of Major General Granger
Major A.A. Genl.”
In no uncertain terms, the slaves were finally freed. The July 7, 1865 New York Times, our Nation’s newspaper of record, printed the general order, under the headline,m”THE SLAVES ALL FREE.”
This new day of celebration was initially called Jubilee Day. (The official name is Juneteenth National Independence Day, but it’s also been called Black Independence Day and Emancipation Day.
As of now, Federal workers will have a paid holiday, and as time goes on, an increasing number of businesses, schools, and local and state governmental offices will remain closed on this day.
This year, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Nike, Target, and other U.S. companies have chosen to give their employees the day off. Starbucks will remain open, with workers earing 1.5 times their usual rate of pay.
Juneteenth is a holiday that has the potential to bring people together. While slavery ended now more than 150 years ago, it’s essential that all Americans remember this aspect of our shared history. We need to remember that as Americans, we are continuously righting past wrongs, and making our Nation’s legacy and promise more real with each passing year.
Of course, many Americans, of all backgrounds, arrived on our shores after 1865. While their ancestors were neither slaves not soldiers fighting to free the slaves, the meaning of this holiday is paramount in American history, and the message of equality for all being more fully realized. Many immigrants sought freedom from oppression in the United States, and our shared history of slavery and its consequences should be of vital concern to us all, no matter our skin color or how long our family has been in America.