Juneteenth - What is it, and Why is it Important?
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19th, 1865, Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official on January 1, 1983. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on Texans because of the minimal Union troops available to enforce the Executive Order; however, after General Lee surrendered in April 1865 and General Granger's regiment arrived in Galveston, the Union forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
One of General Granger's first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas "General Order Number 3," which began with:
"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 or rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."
June 19th became an annual celebration of the emancipation of slaves. The day historically was celebrated by praying and bringing families together. In some celebrations, men and women who had been enslaved, and their descendants, made an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston. In 1872, a group of African-American ministers and businessmen in Houston purchased 10 acres of land and created Emancipation Park, which was intended to hold the city's annual Juneteenth celebration.
Today, many families celebrate with each other in the comfort of their homes, while some cities hold larger events to celebrate the occasion. In 1980, Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth as a holiday. Since then, 45 other states and the District of Columbia have moved to officially recognize the day. In 2019, New Hampshire became the latest state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday. This year, due to the increased scrutiny of how people of color are treated by law enforcement and general racial discrimination, many companies have also designated Juneteenth as a company holiday. Juneteenth is not currently recognized as a national holiday.
Wandro & Associates celebrates Juneteenth as a significant day in our history and one of the first major steps toward equal rights for people of color in the United States. Wandro & Associates recognizes, however, that the celebration of Juneteenth is largely symbolic and is not the change that our brothers and sisters of color need to see or experience. What our country needs is concrete legislative change. While some progress has been made over the last month, much, much more remains to be done. Talking about change is a start, but it is not enough.
Happy Juneteenth to everyone, and let it serve as a reminder to all of us that it was not so long ago that our brothers and sisters of color were treated as property, and that they are still regularly discriminated against and subjected to violence at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them. It is our duty as American citizens to learn about and understand the complex history of systemic racism without needing to be told by our fellow citizens who experience it in everyday life.
Black lives matter.
This Wandro & Associates Update is intended to inform firm clients and friends about legal developments, including recent decisions of various courts and administrative bodies. Nothing in this Practice Update should be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion, and readers should not act upon the information contained in this Update without seeking the advice of legal counsel.