Early afternoon yesterday we received news that our institution was closing for today, June 19, in observation of Juneteenth. Until this year this was not a day we received as a holiday. I wrote the post below for Juneteenth last year and am re-upping today.
Update: Just yesterday the National Archives found an original handwritten order from that original Juneteenth 155 years ago today.
I was off today and spent a big chunk of the hours preparing for an event that will probably come to pass next month. If/when it does, I will write about it in this space. One of the best things about being off on a Wednesday is that this middle day of the work week is getaway day in Major League Baseball. What that means is that teams often play day games on this third day (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) of a series before quickly “getting away” to the next town for a weekend series. While working today I had the Astros/Reds game on. During the broadcast they mentioned that today is Juneteenth. I lived in Texas for many years and know what a big holiday this is in the Lone Star and neighboring states. Unfortunately it remained an exclusively regional affair for much of the next century; there is no mention of Juneteenth in the New York Times until 1933, and after that not until 1981. Over the past several decades Juneteenth has become more significant nationally. Awareness was aided by the 1999 publication of Ralph Ellison’s posthumous novel Juneteenth. Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1914.
Juneteenth began in 1865 and marked the moment when on June 19th of that year Brevet Major General sailed into Galveston Bay and read his General Order #3, which began with the announcement that “The people are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” One must remember that Lincoln’s January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation only applied to slaves within jurisdictions under Federal (Union) control. General Granger spent much of the next six weeks traveling within Texas to spread the news.
Holidays have a funny way of disappearing and coming back. Here in New York we used to have Evacuation Day every November 25. Evacuation Day marked the moment in 1783 when the British, acknowledging defeat, packed up and sailed from New York Harbor back to England. Evacuation Day petered out eventually, presumably because it fell so close to Thanksgiving. It was for Evacuation Day 1883 that they dedicated the John Quincy Adams Ward statue of George Washington on the steps of Federal Hall, then still the New York Sub-Treasury. I would argue that Juneteenth should become a national holiday, or at least a national observance. It is already officially commemorated in forty-five states.
(top image/Austin History Center and the Portal to Texas History; bottom/LOC)