Juneteenth: The History and Legacy of the Holiday that Commemorates the End of Slavery in the South

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Synopsis

Inevitably, for many across the South, the news of the Emancipation Proclamation arrived slowly, and in other locales, the new was withheld entirely, sometimes by years. Slaveowners were not simply going to give up slaves, and in the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction, others created statewide legislation to preserve the old order under a different system of semantics. Credible African American citizenship did not come in a single wave, but intermittently through various regions and to varying degrees over the decades since.

As of June 19, 2021, Independence Day has been joined by a second federal holiday, a bookend to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that gives rise and adds a voice to the 13th Amendment and celebrates the freedoms and equal citizenship of all black citizens of the United States. In future years, “Juneteenth” will be marked alongside Independence Day as a celebration to include those who were barred from the benefits of the original event and intent. Viewed as an enhancement to and a completion of the original independence movement, Juneteenth merits the same community reverence and celebration based on the belief, in the words of Opal Lee, that “none of us [is] free till we’re all free.”

While Lee was described by President Joseph Biden as the “Grandmother of the Juneteenth movement,” she and others continue to worry that Juneteenth will become only a “black” holiday rather than a national one. Michael Erikson of Deseret News asserted that abolition of slavery is in itself “a profoundly religious event,” and should therefore remain free of political rancor or social partisanship.”


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