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Juneteenth: Why We Celebrate

June 19, 1865, is the day known as Juneteenth, marking the end of slavery in America. What do you know about its history?

Nearly two and a half years earlier, on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that “all persons held as slaves... shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The news that many had hoped and prayed for had finally come. Yet, Union troops were not strong enough to enforce the new law in the Confederacy at the time.

In 1865, Union General Gordon Granger’s troops arrived in Galveston, Texas. Nearly 10,000 Black troops joined them to help execute the law that ultimately freed over 250,000 enslaved people in that state. Texas was the last of the Confederate states to recognize the end of slavery. For those who suffered such violence, June 19, 1865, went down in history as a second Independence Day.

Over a century later, in 1979, Texas was the first state in the US to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, which led the way for many others. President Biden signed a bill on June 17, 2021, that made Juneteenth a federal holiday. For many years, African Americans have celebrated this day as a way of honoring their history. The early Juneteenth celebrations involved small family gatherings and prayers of gratitude. Today, families still gather each year, and celebrations are held around the country as a reminder of the importance of union and belonging.

Juneteenth today is about celebrating culture, freedom, respect, and inclusion. Celebrating this day reflects our desire to repair the impact centuries of slavery still have on society. In 2021, President Russell M. Nelson said , “I renew our call to abandon prejudice and promote civility, kindness, and mutual respect. We seek to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation.” President Nelson’s remarks remind us of the Christlike love we must all share to be one.

American abolitionist Harriet Tubman once said, “[God] gave me the strength in my limbs; He meant I should be free.” As we celebrate Juneteenth, let us do our best to learn the history that has brought us here. May we reflect on the impacts of enslavement and commit never to forget it; instead, let us always combat it.

Image Source: Stephenson, Mrs. Charles (Grace Murray). [Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900], photograph, June 19, 1900; ( : accessed June 9, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, ; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

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