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Celebrate Freedom Day on Juneteenth

“What we’re trying to get people to understand is that Juneteenth is freedom. And I don’t mean just for Black people, or Texas people. It’s for freedom for everybody.” Opal Lee1

Juneteenth is America’s second independence day. It commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. While the Civil War ended on April 26, 1865, it took another two months for 250,000 enslaved Black people in western Texas to learn that they were no longer the property of white people. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger, with some 2,000 Union troops, arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas and declared that all slaves are free.

“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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

After more than 200 years of enslavement, “all slaves are free,” proclaimed the order, with the caveat that, free or not, equality would not be guaranteed. But none of that mattered on June 19th in 1865, when freedom for a quarter of a million people had finally come. Annual celebrations began a year later on June 19, 1866 in Houston, TX where thousands of freed people made a procession down Main Street on “Jubilee Day.” From this day forward, parades, music, sermons, and picnics became part of the annual celebration in Texas and elsewhere. 

photo titled "Two Women in a Decorated Buggy for Juneteenth" shows two women wearing black dresses and hats, in a buggy decorated with flowers for the annual Juneteenth Celebration that is parked on a street in front of a house

Juneteenth, Jubilee Day, Freedom Day … no matter what we call it, it is a day that should be celebrated by all Americans; when our nation finally surfaced from the dark business of slavery. In the words of President Biden, “Juneteenth is a day of profound weight and power. A day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country – what I’ve long called America’s original sin. A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity. But it is a day that also reminds us of our incredible capacity to heal, hope, and emerge from our darkest moments with purpose and resolve.” 

Bentley Library celebrates this day with curated collections of books, online resources, and research guides and commemorates the day that news of emancipation finally reached the enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865.

1Martinez, N. “Opal Lee, Fort Worth’s Grandmother of Juneteenth.” (2023, June 16). Texas Monthly.