Emancipation Echoes: The Unfolding Legacy of Juneteenth

2 June 2023
by Ancestry® Team

Juneteenth memorializes an important moment in Black American History. Whether you are a Black American or not, this holiday is significant for all Americans, as it provides an opportunity to remember the past, promote awareness, and educate the country on the experiences, struggles, and contributions of Black Americans in the United States throughout its history.

Juneteenth History

Most people have read in history books that slavery came to an end with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. For some enslaved people in the South, however, freedom wasn’t official until federal soldiers arrived in the furthest reaches of the former Confederacy to enforce what the Emancipation Proclamation had promised. Juneteenth marks the moment when the last people in the nation were freed from slavery in Galveston, Texas, in June of 1865.

Why did it take two years following the Emancipation Proclamation for everyone to be freed? On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared all enslaved people in states that had seceded from the Union to be free citizens. In the face of the ongoing civil war, however, this abolition of slavery could not yet be enforced in those Confederate states and Union border states. While Lincoln’s proclamation was incomplete, some enslaved people were motivated to rebel in pursuit of their freedom. since southern enslavers did not manumit them.

Despite the official end to the Civil War and the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment, it still took time for this news to reach everyone in the country. General Gordon Granger freed roughly 250,000 enslaved people when he arrived in Texas on June 19, 1865. As the newly free moved to other states and had families, the tradition of celebrating Juneteenth every year spread throughout the Southern states and eventually to the rest of the country. Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1979. The United States recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021.

While the entire nation celebrates Independence Day in honor of the United States becoming a free country, Juneteenth is the day that all people became free.

Juneteenth Meaning and Significance

As the first Black American holiday associated with Black freedom, Juneteenth represents progress, resilience, and withstanding great odds.

Those who celebrate Juneteenth also honor the sacrifices made on their ancestors’ behalf and the enslaved people who fought for their freedom. A typical Juneteenth celebration includes food and drink with red coloring to represent the bloodshed the nation endured during this bitter struggle.

In Texas especially, Juneteenth is celebrated with elaborate barbecues or cookouts and firework displays similar to those seen on Independence Day.

Juneteenth Flag

The Juneteenth flag features the same three colors as the United States flag. It features a single large white star with an outer burst to represent the breaking of old societal norms. The design is intentional, as it is meant to represent that the formerly enslaved, and their descendents, are free Americans.

The starburst is also similar to a supernova, when a new star is formed from the dust of an older star. This symbolizes a new beginning for Black Americans. Finally, the red and blue on the flag is shaped in an arc, like a hill on the horizon. For the people freed on Juneteenth, the horizon represented an infinite number of opportunities and possibilities to look forward to in the future.

The Juneteenth flag is a beacon of hope for those who see opportunities ahead to address the current racial injustice that exists in the United States. It offers the motivation many need to continue to push for more progress while honoring all the achievements of the past.

Juneteenth Flag

Juneteenth History Facts

Looking for important facts about Juneteenth? Here are just a few.

  • There are currently 23 other states and the District of Columbia where Juneteenth is a paid holiday.
  • While the original order issued by General Granger encouraged previously enslaved people to remain in Galveston and become employees for their one-time owners, most freed people left immediately. Their primary motivation was to reunite with lost family members and start new lives.
  • Juneteenth, which is a shortening of the date June 19, isn’t the only name people have given the holiday in the past. It has many other unique names that vary based on region and community, including “Freedom Day” and “Emancipation Day.”
  • Juneteenth and American history are linked from the end of slavery through the Civil Rights era. Many Jim Crow laws limited public celebration, and its resurgence grew in responses to segregation, racism, and racial injustice. Juneteenth became a rallying cry for many people in the 1960s.
  • Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in 2021 that made it a federal holiday.

Juneteenth Celebrations Around the World

Black American History Month and Juneteenth are the largest celebrations in the world that honor freedom and opportunity for people regardless of race. Here are some examples of Juneteenth celebrations outside the United States:

  • International schools in Nigeria honor the holiday with drumming, jazz music, singing, and games.
  • The Japan Black American Friendship Association hosts an annual Juneteenth celebration.
  • Guam also celebrates Juneteenth. Celebrations are organized by the nation’s Black Heritage Council.
  • In Jerusalem, Juneteenth is celebrated in Abu Tor. This community features both Jews and Arabs residents who celebrate together, despite their differences.

Celebrating Juneteenth

Discovering Your Roots: Journey Through Juneteenth

This history of Black Americans is an integral part of the broader tapestry of American history. Black American history is American history. To learn more about your heritage and where your family comes from, you can search collections such as the African American Collection or Interviews with Formerly Enslaved People to see if you find any of your distant relatives. To take your family research to another level, start a free trial of Ancestry today!