Juneteenth continues its celebration of freedom over a hundred years later.

Illustration by Ariel Walter | The Signal

After centuries of relentless and immoral treatment done to those enslaved, freedom is finally here. This freedom is recognized every year on June 19th and is now officially celebrated as the federal holiday, better known as Juneteenth.

Formerly known as Emancipation Day or Jubilee Day, Juneteenth is a holiday that marks the ending of slavery in the U.S. and the freedom of those enslaved.

The history behind this holiday reaches all the way back to the Civil War. In 1863, former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln formally freed slaves within the U.S. by signing the Emancipation Proclamation. This document recognized that “all persons held as slaves [ within rebellious states] are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Following this major victory for enslaved African Americans, in 1865, the 13th Amendment was passed by the House to abolish and outlaw slavery in the U.S. This constitutional amendment stated that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place to their jurisdiction.”

Unfortunately, not all slaves were immediately freed after the Emancipation Proclamation as it only included the enslaved African Americans that the Union liberated. Many of those who were still enslaved but newly freed by law were either working or punished for trying to embrace their freedom.

With Texas left in the dark about this newfound freedom, it was until the Civil War ended when Major Gen. Gordon Granger made his way to Texas to issue an order on June 19, 1965. The order read, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

On that very day, Juneteeth was made. From that moment forward and for years to follow, Juneteenth continues to be a celebration of life and freedom for all Black people. This celebration spread all over the nation, which created yearly traditions including cookouts, fellowship and music. 

Despite being emancipated and free for years, Black people continued to fight for the equality and justice they deserved. Black people became marginalized under Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws and cultural racism, which would hinder the progress of the entire race.

These campaigns of hatred and racism made it hard for Black people to simply exist and have the ability to do better for themselves in the world. These often came in the form of vicious white mobs such as the Klu Klux Klan and even law enforcement.

Black people continued to rewrite history years later as Texas wanted to honor and officially celebrate the freedom of Black people. On January 1, 1980, Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday by Representative Al Edwards.

However, no matter how many milestones Black people accomplish and holidays are created, the battle for freedom continues. From police brutality to inequality and injustice, Black people protest day after day to simply have their voices heard.

In the wake of all the countless tragedies and misfortunes that Blacks have faced today, the celebration of Juneteenth still brings Black people closer together every year. With the aid of President Joe Biden, he signed a law on June 15, 2021, making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

This acknowledgment is only the beginning and a step in the right direction for African Americans worldwide. The fight might be slow, but true freedom and equality are still possible for all.