Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is an American holiday celebrated on June 19th. On June 19, 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation was read to enslaved African Americans in Texas. This was the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy.
The Emancipation Proclamation, a five paged hand written document, was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, but was written on September 22, 1862. As the nation approached its third year of a bloody civil war, the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1st of 1863 and declared “that all persons held as slaves, within the rebellious states, are, and hence forward shall be free.”
The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in all states, however, it captured the hearts and imagination of many Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war. My great-great aunt Jane Church, an abolitionist in Ohio, wrote in her diary dated Tuesday, September 23, 1862: “The President yesterday issued a Proclamation of Freedom to all slaves in the rebellious states or of rebel masters if they do not lay down their arms by the first of January and the loyal slave holders to be compensated”. On Wednesday, December 3, 1862 Jane wrote: “Have been reading the President’s message. He recommends the abolition of slavery in all states on or before the year 1900. I laid down the paper saying in my heart, God bless you, Abraham Lincoln!”
After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. The Proclamation led to the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, thus, the liberated became the liberators. By the end of the war between the states, close to 200,000 black soldiers and sailors fought for the Union and freedom.
Today we celebrate Juneteenth as a day of exploration and celebration of African American history and heritage.