By Sylvia Clubb, Quill and Scroll
Why ‘Freedom Day” needs to be considered an official federal holiday
“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.” — General Order No. 3, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger
Union Maj. Gen. Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce to the citizens of Texas that all slaves were free on June 19, 1865, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was put into effect by President Lincoln, and two months after the end of the Civil War.
The delay in announcement was caused by a variety of problems: the Emancipation Proclamation was only immediately enforced in Confederate States that were under the control of Union armies, a lack of Union manpower in Texas and 19th-century communication limitations, as well as the withholding of information by slave owners to slaves.
Even with the announcement from Gen. Maj. Granger, freedom was not immediate. Former slave owners withheld this information until government officials arrived at each individual property to enforce the proclamation, according to Henry Louis Gates Jr. for PBS.
Even so, the news meant that all slaves in the United States were now, legally, free. The day was celebrated in a multitude of ways, including with prayer, song, feasting and dance, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The first unofficial celebration and remembrance of the day began on June 19, 1866.
Let’s talk about overall reception.
The first state to formally recognize Juneteenth as a holiday was Texas in 1980 – over 100 years after the day was first celebrated. As of today, 47 states recognize Juneteenth as holiday. However, Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota do not celebrate the holiday. Presidents have issued proclamations recognizing the commemoration of Juneteenth, as has the Senate, according to the Congressional Research Service on June 3. But, this doesn’t make it an official holiday in the eyes of the United States government.
So, let’s look at what are considered national holidays.
- New Year’s Day – January 1
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday – third Monday of January
- Washington’s Birthday/President’s Day – third Monday of February
- Memorial Day – last Monday in May
- Independence Day – July 4
- Labor Day – first Monday in September
- Columbus Day – second Monday in October
- Veteran’s Day – November 11
- Thanksgiving Day – fourth Thursday in November
- Christmas Day – December 25
Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash
United States’ holidays celebrate about a handful of things: the start of a new year, important political officials throughout history, soldiers, successful harvests and a single denominational religious celebration. We nationally celebrate and recognize holidays that mark the history of the United States – but not all its populations.
The recognition of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a federal holiday is included in the Uniform Holiday Act; instead of being celebrated on King’s actual birthday, January 15, the holiday floats to the third Monday of the month. There is no specific celebration, or recognition, of the complete history of African Americans in the United States. Additionally, the history of an entire population cannot be summed up by one day of recognition.
The road to getting MLK Day recognized nationally took over twenty years. It celebrates the work done by King in the Civil Rights Movement and is the newest of the federal holidays. The Civil Rights Movement is only one marker in the history of African Americans in the United States.
As the most widely recognized celebration of freedom of African American people in the United States, Juneteenth represents more than just the day former Texas slaves learned of their freedom.
In celebrating July 4, Independence Day, the United States recognizes American freedom from the hand of the British government. However, in failing to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, the United States does not affirm the freedom of African Americans from the hands of white oppressors.
On today, June 19, 2020, 155 years after Maj. Gen. Gordon’s order, we do not live in a world of freedom and equality. As citizens across the world participate in the Black Lives Matter movement, Juneteenth is receiving more national media attention than ever. Educating Americans who may be unaware of the holiday is a critical step in gaining national reception, as well as federal recognition. Partake in educational opportunities, share your knowledge with unknowing friends and family and act as allies and participants in recognizing the history of Juneteenth.