Why Is It Called Juneteenth

June 19th is quickly becoming a holiday. Earlier this week VA Governor Ralph Northam announced that he was issuing an executive order giving every executive branch employee this Friday off as a paid holiday and will work with the legislature later this year to pass a law codifying Juneteenth as a permanent state holiday. Wednesday NY followed their lead.

A sudden increase in attention to this date has led Google searches for Juneteenth to explode in the last week. So what are the basics for us to understand?

On June 19th 1865 the state of Texas received this proclamation from Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger. It returned Texas to the Union and freed the slaves.

“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.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

The Emancipation Proclamation had come 3 years earlier on September 22, 1862.

2 months before Texas received this order, on April 9th 1865 General Lee had surrendered to General Grant. On April 15th the President had been assassinated. The South kept fighting and on May 12th the Confederacy won their last battle when 350 troops shocked 800 Union troops in the Battle of Palmito Ranch outside of Brownsville TX. So 5 weeks later on June 19th when the Union assumed control of Texas that became the last Southern state to free slaves.

Nationally, black leaders debated which day should be celebrated as the day the slaves won their freedom but while that debate raged, Texas went ahead and recognized June 19th. In 1938 we have a written proclamation that states in part: Whereas, June 19, 1938, this year falls on Sunday; NOW, THEREFORE, I, JAMES V. ALLRED, Governor of the State of Texas, do set aside and proclaim the day of June 20, 1938, as the date for observance of EMANCIPATION DAY.

In 1980 Texas became the first state to make June 19th a day of recognition. A decade later Florida followed suit. South Carolina became the 32nd state to recognize June 19th when we passed a proclamation in 2008. Only Hawaii and the 2 Dakota's don't officially recognize June 19th.

As for why June 19th has been shortened to Juneteenth I can't find when or where that happened. I did see an article in the Denver Post that simply states; Originally known as the “June the 19th” celebration, it eventually was shortened to Juneteenth. So if you know who was the first to refer to it that way or even the first to put it in print you have some valuable information that I hope you'll share so we can update this article!

A group of former slaves Juneteenth in 1900. University of North Texas Libraries | Wikimedia Commons

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