It’s taken 156 years to acknowledge but on June 17, 2021, Congress passed legislation, which President Biden swiftly signed, establishing Juneteenth (June 19), which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, a national holiday.
Though Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to the Union Army in Appomattox, Virginia two months earlier, effectively ending the Civil War, many white masters deliberately kept such news from their slaves, a deception made easier by the fact that most Southern states had laws prohibiting slaves to read or write. On June 19, 1865, however, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. Summoning all to the square he read from General Order #3, informing more than 250,000 African-American slaves working on Texan farms and plantations that they were free. Part of General Order #3, reads as follows:
“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 hired laborer.”National Museum of African American History and Culture
Granger’s Order put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Lincoln had issued 36 months earlier but had never been acknowledged by the rebellious Confederacy. The 13th Amendment of the Constitution which formally abolished slavery in the United States wasn’t ratified until December 6, 1865.
Forty-seven states already commemorate Juneteenth in some fashion but until now only Texas made it a paid state holiday for government workers. Immediately upon signing the bill into law, President Biden declared Friday, June 18, 2021 an official paid holiday for all federal employees.
To celebrate Juneteenth here at DDWC, we encourage you to read and share the 10 books on this list about the importance of Juneteenth not just for Black Americans but for all who view the end of slavery in America a crucial turning point in our country’s history and our American identity.