This Saturday marks the celebration of Juneteenth, short for June 19th. Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas in 1865, and by extension the end of slavery in America. 

In honor of that, we bring you this digital extra that takes a look at the history behind the holiday, as told by UMass Amherst Afro-American Studies Professor Amilcar Shabazz. 


Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: This Saturday marks the celebration of Juneteenth, short for June 19th, which commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas in 1865, and by extension, the end of slavery in America.

And in honor of that, we bring you this digital extra that takes a look at the history behind the holiday, as told by UMass Amherst Professor of Afro-American Studies Amilcar Shabazz.

Prof. Amilcar Shabazz, UMass Amherst: Eighteen sixty five, April, Civil War ends. And of course, in all of the different states where the Union Army is militarily occupied and the the effect of the Appomattox treaty begins to register that that slavery is over, that the war is over, and therefore, slavery is over because African-Americans were walking off the plantations — they were just done.

So, you know, and and so it becomes a a fact by military force of arms. But the Union Army, the far west, is Texas, as far as the Civil War is concerned in the Confederate States. And so it took until the 19th of June 1865, is when General Gordon Granger arrives and he he reads out this proclamation to the effect that slavery is over, you can’t continue to defy the fact. This is before passage of the 13th Amendment.

And so African-Americans now with that military backing, with that force of arms, knowing that they’re free, it’s done, and they take off. And they begin to remember that date. So, it becomes pretty much a Texas thing, if you wish, in the 1860s, 1870s, going into the 1900s, except in certain areas where the traditions are just long-standing, and frankly, King Cotton is still a factor.

Other than those areas, it sort of subsides even as a major Texas holiday that African-Americans take. But going into the 60s, going into the 1970s with the nationally, what we refer to as the Black Power Movement, the Black Arts movement, say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.

Well, Texans Blacks in Texas begin to recover that day and revitalize their celebrations of that day. And it starts becoming more pervasive all over the state.

A state representative out of the Houston area, Al Edwards — recently passed away — he introduces a bill in the late 70s to make it a state holiday. But going into the 90s, we start seeing this migration of Juneteenth as the day for reflecting on and commemorating African-American Emancipation, African-American freedom in this country. Starts to migrate out to states.

And then in particularly when George Bush, President George W. Bush, who had been a former Texas governor and had done a lot to acknowledge it in Texas, he gets to the White House. There was talk maybe he would work toward making it a national holiday. Well, he didn’t do that, but he gave a lot of proclamations every year, and he was a big supporter of it on some level as just the acknowledgment of it. But, it starts really picking up steam after the turn of the millennium.

And I should note, about 44 states now have proclaimed — have issued proclamations around Juneteenth as a day of celebration, as a day of historical commemoration, as important. So, almost all 50 states have proclaimed it in some ways.

Other countries where it was there was chattel slavery, that were slave societies — not just societies that had slavery — but that were really slave societies, there are clear emancipation days, Jamaica, Cuba, different places, all at different times of the year.

But in the United States, we never cohered around a date. We were a slave society. But we never cohered around a date that we would mark the end of that slaved society.