On Friday, Verb will be joining dozens of other companies in observing Juneteenth, commemorating the day slavery ended in the United States back in 1865. It’s a holiday that’s been recognized for decades in most states and is often marked as a day of celebration, reflection, and education.
That last word is important because as much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t know the holiday existed until this week. I was never taught about it in school, never discussed it with family, and through my own ignorance never picked it up anywhere else along the way. That’s exactly why it’s so important that companies like Twitter, Verb, and Adobe are giving Juneteenth the acknowledgement it deserves. And in that spirit, I decided to compile a little bit of history about the holiday and the events surrounding it. Hopefully, in some small way, I can help spread the word about one of the most important dates in American history.
Juneteenth celebration in 1900 at Eastwoods Park. Credit: Austin History Center
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862, and it became effective a few months later in January. As soon as the clock struck midnight that New Year’s Eve, more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans in the Confederate states were legally free, according to federal law. The problem? The Civil War wasn’t over, and that freedom was only enforced in Union territory.
As the Union was able to take control of more and more territory, some plantation owners went so far as to move their slaves to the more remote areas of the country, like Texas. The Union presence there was low enough that the Emancipation Proclamation simply couldn’t be enforced. They couldn’t run for long though. It took over two years, but on June 19th, 1865 Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with his army of roughly two thousand soldiers and read General Order No. 3, announcing that all slaves were free, and had been for some time. And then it was finally over, the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy had been freed.
Since that day, Juneteenth has been celebrated in various spots around the country, becoming an official holiday in Texas in 1980, with other states slowly getting on board over the next few decades and presently 47 of the 50 states have officially recognized it. Here’s hoping the other 3 don’t take another 150 years to get there.
I honestly can’t believe how much history like this I’ve missed out on. How many other events like Juneteenth are out there that I still don’t know about? With all the unrest that’s been happening across the world lately, it’s hard to remember that humans are capable of tremendous good. Stories like this can serve as an example of the equality we can achieve if we just keep striving for it.
This might be the first year I’ll be celebrating Juneteenth, but you can bet I’ll be making the most of it. I’ve got a lot of years to make up for.
If like me, you didn’t really know about this and want to look more into it and get into the spirit of the holiday, I recommend checking out something like the Juneteenth Jamboree, which highlights local stories that resonate with the idea of freedom every year. And of course, be on the lookout for our new Verb for Humanity initiative, which will explore events and causes like this one with viewpoints from all over the community.