EDITORIAL: Juneteenth, our newest federal holiday
On June 19, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, bringing news that the Civil War had ended two months earlier and that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed enslaved people in Confederate states 2 ½ years earlier.
Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, who led Union soldiers into the coastal city, read General Order Number 3, which began:
“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
The announcement came more than two months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to U.S. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House and after the Emancipation Proclamation became effective on Jan. 1, 1863.
While only through the Thirteenth Amendment did the inhumane institution of slavery formally end throughout the United States, the Galveston news became rich with symbolism. It marked the beginning of an annual celebration — “Juneteenth,” short for June 19th.
Now, appropriately, it will become a national holiday - to be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day - commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. It’s time.
Last week, the U.S. Senate endorsed the holiday under a unanimous consent agreement. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 415-14 to make Juneteenth the nation’s 12th federal holiday. President Joe Biden signed the measure into law on Thursday.
Juneteenth will be the first new federal holiday since the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983 — another equally important observance.
In 1979, Texas became the first state to recognize the day as a holiday and numerous states followed. The South Carolina legislature recognized June 19 as “Juneteenth Celebration of Freedom Day” in 2018, but fell short of making it a state holiday.
Numerous events took place across the Pee Dee Region and the state over the weekend to mark this special day.
The Declaration of Independence proclaims: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Elevating Juneteenth to a federal holiday will help Americans understand the importance of making that a reality for all.