Juneteenth: Guest Editorial

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By Lee D. Van Landuyt,    Retired U.S. history     teacher

When it comes to slavery in the United States of America, there were three important events that brought this practice to an end. During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln recognized the necessity to severely cripple the Confederacy. One important way outside of open warfare on the battle field was to proclaim the freedom of the enslaved people who lived in the states rebelling against the Union.
This was first done on the eve of January 1, 1863. On that night, enslaved and free African Americans waited for news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. At midnight, all enslaved people in Confederate States were declared legally free. This struck fear into everyone rebelling against the Union. Confederate leaders, soldiers, plantation owners, and the general public became very fearful of the human beings that they had held captive since the first ship arrived in 1619 to deliver the first enslaved Africans to the North American continent.
The second event that ended slavery in this country took place on February 1, 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution which abolished slavery across the country.
President Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865. He never lived to see the full implementation of the 13 Amendment. But, as Union soldiers and representatives oversaw the Reconstruction of the southern states (1865-1877) as they began the process of rejoining the Union, former slaves began to realize their freedom from the slave conditions they and their ancestors had endured for well over two hundred years.
The third and final event that informed enslaved people in Texas about their freedom happened on June 19, 1866. This is the date when 2,000 Union troops, under the command of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. As a direct result, more than 250,000 slaves finally learned the good news that slavery had officially ended and they were truly free.
This final liberation day came to be known as “Juneteenth,” by the newly freed people in Texas. Juneteenth celebrations quickly spread to the rest of the country, and the date continues to be the oldest known tradition honoring the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth became a national holiday by a joint act of Congress and signed into law by President Biden in 2021.
President Joseph Biden stated: “One of my proudest actions as President has been signing the bipartisan law establishing Juneteenth as the first new Federal holiday since the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday nearly four decades ago. On this Juneteenth Day of Observance, we commemorate America’s dedication to the cause of freedom.”

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