Juneteenth: America’s Newest Federal Holiday
by Erin Runnels
In 2021, Juneteenth was made a federal holiday by President Joe Biden with the help of Opal Lee of Fort Worth, Texas. Ms. Lee fought to make Juneteenth a federal holiday for a long time. In 2016, she launched a walking campaign to Washington D.C. in hopes of achieving her dream.
The first time, she crossed 14 states and in 2019 when she relaunched the campaign, she got through 7 states before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. Not all was lost though. Two years later, Lee’s dream became reality, and she was invited to the White House to witness the historical moment that Juneteenth became a federal holiday. Texans and Black Americans in the South whose family passed on the monumental story of freedom have celebrated for years.
On the eve of January 1st, 1863, when the clock struck midnight, all enslaved people were legally declared free in Confederate States. On that night, many enslaved and freed Black Americans gathered across the country in their homes or churches waiting for news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken affect. Union soldiers went onto plantations and visited cities across the south to read out small copies of the document that began a new chapter for enslaved Black Americans.
But there was a catch. Not all slaves still under control in Confederate territory were immediately freed. As great and grand the gesture was, Confederates in the South were willing to fight to the death to keep one of the United States’ darkest time periods going. Because of this, it would not be until June 19th, 1865, two and a half years later in Galveston, Texas when all Black people were free from slavery in the U.S. Union troops arrived and announced that more than 250,000 enslaved people in the state of Texas were freed.
Although this marked the end of slavery in America, there was still a long way to go for Black Americans to fully realize the rights and privileges of freedom. Improving race relations and resolving issues of equity and human rights remains the important work of our time It is important to educate current and future generations about America’s second Independence Day.
At Frazier Revitalization, we hope that this starts an important dialogue and fosters conversations that are both insightful and educational this Juneteenth weekend.