Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. Today, Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas, a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics, and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement, and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long overdue. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities, and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.
Juneteenth observations declined in the 1940s during World War II but were revived in 1950 “with 70,000 black people on the Texas State Fairgrounds at Dallas.” The celebrations would decline again as attention went to school desegregation and the civil rights movement in the late 1950s and 1960s but picked back up in the 1970s as advocates in Texas launched the first effort to make Juneteenth an unofficial “holiday of significance..., particularly to the blacks of Texas.” On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became a Texas state holiday after state Rep. Al Edwards put forth legislation. For more than a decade, Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has introduced a resolution to recognize the historical significance of Juneteenth. In 2021, legislation passed in both the Senate and the House and was signed into law by President Biden to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday.