The Legal History of Juneteenth

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By George Khoury, Esq. on June 19, 2019 3:00 PM

Many people don't know about the holiday Juneteenth. It's actually one of the more significant historical events for American history.

Juneteenth is a celebration of the news of emancipation finally making it to the last remaining slaves in the United States on June 19, 1865. Despite the emancipation proclamation being given by President Lincoln two and a half years prior, confederate states did not free slaves until after the end of the war. 

As one might imagine, the news of freedom resulted in celebration. Sadly, the news also resulted in many former slaves being killed for trying to leave. One scholar explains that many slaves were forced to stay on after emancipation for as long as six years.

General Order No. 3

On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger gave the following order:

"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."

The order was being directed at Texas because it was the last holdout, not officially surrendering until June 2, 1865, months after General Grant surrendered.

Celebrating Freedom

The following year, on June 19, 1866, an official celebration was held for Juneteenth, which is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth. Traditionally, the holiday is not just about celebrating; it also has a focus on education and self-improvement. Typically, elders in the community share their stories and speakers are brought in to teach and inspire.

Juneteenth is now an officially recognized holiday in nearly every state and D.C. On this Juneteenth, Pennsylvania is becoming the 46th state to officially recognize the holiday.

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