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What is Juneteenth?

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When did slavery end in the United States? And what is Juneteenth? This TED-Ed lesson by author Karlos K. Hill and historian Soraya Field Fiorio introduces June 19th, 1865, the date known as Juneteenth, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and America’s second Independence Day.

The TED-Ed animation, directed by Rémi Cans, Atypicalist, also reviews some of the historic events before and after that ultimately led to the end of chattel slavery.

One of those events was President Abraham Lincoln‘s January 1, 1863 issue of the Emancipation Proclamation during the American Civil War. The document declared that enslaved individuals living in any seceded states “are, and henceforward shall be free,” excluding enslaved people in loyal border states and parts of the Confederacy under Northern control. It also required the enforcement of Union military success.

According to the National Archives, the declaration, despite its lamentable limits, still had a profound impact on public sentiment and changed the nature of the war.

“After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of Black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 Black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.”

soldiers coming to free enslaved people on plantations

“From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their own liberty. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically.”

Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment corrected the Emancipation Proclamation’s faults and permanently abolished the institution of slavery throughout the nation.

Then why June 19th?

General Gordon Granger marching into Galveston, Texas
“Though slavery was technically illegal,” when the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, “it still persisted in the last bastions of the Confederacy.”

“This was the case when Union General Gordon Granger marched his troops into Galveston, Texas on June 19th and announced that all enslaved people there were officially free.”

The country’s staggered progression of freedom resulted in different commemoration dates for the end of slavery, dependent on location. But Juneteenth—named for the combination of June and nineteenth—was eventually adopted by regions beyond Texas, where it’s been joyfully observed among Black communities since 1866.

Early celebrations on different days
Juneteenth became a Texas state holiday in 1980, and gained recognition as a federal holiday in 2021. From the National Museum of African American History and Culture:

“Juneteenth celebrations then, like now, recognize the ongoing fight for human rights and equality and are commemorated through family cookouts, faith services, musical performances and storytelling. Today, Juneteenth celebrates African American resilience and achievement while aiding in the preservation of those historical narratives that promoted racial and personal advancement since Freedom Day.”

Celebrating Juneteenth
Baptist minister and businessman Solomon Sir Jones was a dedicated documentarian of Black communities in Oklahoma and beyond in the 1920s. Via the Beinecke Library at Yale, his silent recording below immortalizes a 1925 Juneteenth parade in Beaumont, Texas:

Related exploration: National Archives Safeguards Original ‘Juneteenth’ General Order and NMAAHC’s 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Watch these videos next on TKSST:
• Juneteenth, the 155th anniversary Google Doodle narrated by LeVar Burton
• The breathtaking courage of Harriet Tubman
• The Woman’s Club Movement
• The Raised Fist Afro Comb: Untold’s Museum of Artifacts That Made America
• Bisa Butler: Portraits, an Exhibition Story from The Art Institute of Chicago

And rare 1920s films of all-Black towns “living the American dream,” filmed by Solomon Sir Jones.

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