HOW IT ALL STARTED
A New Paid Holiday In Celebration of Freedom
On June 19, 1865, freedom arrived tardy for more than
250,000 enslaved Americans.
The “indescribable joy” that was shouted and cried
and sung about on that day by thousands of African-Americans still rings down the ages in today’s celebration of Juneteenth.
On that day, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, where about 2,000 Union troops helped him deliver the news of the Emancipation Proclamation, the federal edict issued by President Abraham Lincoln freeing African-Americans from bondage. The news arrived 2-1/2 years late.
The proclamation was originally made law on Jan. 1, 1863, after nearly two years of bloody fighting to end slavery and quash the Southern rebellion. During the four-year Civil War, some 200,000 Black men enlisted in the Union army to fight for freedom.
But as the war waged on and Southern states began falling to Northern troops, many slaveholders pushed west into Texas to try to escape the inevitable. Many continued to enslave African-Americans even after Juneteenth, until government agents forced them to comply.
Although some Confederates in Texas continued to block
freedom for months afterward through terror, violence and
confusion, the die was cast and Black Americans knew that
emancipation was coming. The ensuing joy was said to have
sparked a great and raucous outpouring of cheers and shouts; some set off gunpowder blasts as makeshift fireworks.
As historian and literary critic Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote,
Juneteenth is “all the more remarkable” because it defied the continued terror of the day.
This celebration of hope and joy was officially launched in
Texas the very next year, on June 19, 1866.
Black Americans wore their finest clothes, sang, prayed,
shared meals and played games. The oldest members of the community shared personal stories about their lives under slavery and rejoiced in their freedom. All across the country, African-Americans were working to reunite families that had
been separated during slavery. Juneteenth gatherings were
opportunities to bring people together.
Slowly, the Juneteenth tradition began to spread outside Texas and these gatherings became a celebration of African-
American culture throughout the country. In 1980, June 19
officially became a state holiday in Texas.
The movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday ramped up in 2020 after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by police in Minneapolis.
Pressure mounted to reform police departments around the
country and the Black Lives Matter movement held marches and demonstrations that drew millions of participants.
On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill passed by Congress to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday. On April 11, 2022, just a few months after taking office, New York City Mayor Eric Adams established June 19 as a paid city holiday for the first time in NYC history.
The day “is a time of reflection, self-assessment and selfimprovement,” said Mayor Adams.
“As the second Black mayor of New York City, I know that I
stand on the shoulders of countless heroes and sheroes who put their lives on the line to secure a more perfect union,” he said.
“Now is the time for me to do a small part and recognize one of our nation’s greatest wrongs.”
All city employees will receive the paid holiday beginning
this year. SSEU Local 371 and President Anthony Wells wish all members and their families, no matter their race, nationality, religion, gender or age, a peaceful day to reflect on the harsh truths of the past but also to rejoice in the incredible progress we can make when we work together for change.