If you ask most people when slavery was abolished in the United States, the closest you’ll get to an exact date is probably January 1, 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. Drafted the prior September, President Lincoln used this document to “order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.”
Proclamation nonwithstanding, it is not as if slavery ended overnight. It is important to remember that the Civil War kept raging, the Presidential decree did not free all the slaves in the United States, and in the days before a 24/7 news cycle, word traveled slowly. June 19, 1865 is now commemorated as the day Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army issued orders from Galveston, Texas announcing “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” Despite the fact that more than two years had passed since the enacting of the Emancipation Proclamation, it was General Granger’s order that brought freedom to 250,000 slaves in Texas. Texas was a remote outpost on the American frontier, so many consider June 19th, or “Juneteenth” as the true end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth was celebrated the next year, and celebrations continued and spread as the years went by, sometimes celebrated as “Emancipation Day.”
The stories surrounding Juneteenth are rich, and (of course) influenced by and reflected in the tumultuous state of race relations in past and present America. We invite readers to learn about Juneteenth from Henry Louis Gates, Jr., from the Atlantic‘s Vann R. Newkirk II, and from Jamelle Bouie at Slate. (Virtually) check out information about historical Juneteenth celebrations from the New York Public Library, and (literally) check out Ralph Ellison’s posthumously published novel about the complicated construction of race and identity in America.
While many Boston area Juneteenth celebrations took place over the course of last weekend, you can still enjoy special free Juneteenth programming Wednesday evening (6/20) at the Museum of Fine Arts. This multimedia event includes interactive art demonstrations, singing and dancing, and film screenings, and is open to all ages.
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