News & Politics

Juneteenth is the original African-American holiday.

Most folks are familiar with African-American History Month in February and Kwanzaa in December. Many people also celebrate Martin Luther King's Birthday, which is now a federal holiday.

But Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery, the central event in African-American history.

There are several stories of how the Juneteenth celebration started. One version of Juneteenth says the holiday commemorates the day slaves first heard the Emancipation Proclamation in Houston, Tex., on June 19, 1863 -- five months after Lincoln first issued it. According to this version, African Americans coined the word "Juneteenth" to commemorate the June 19 freedom day.

Another version has Union General Gordon Granger, commander in charge of Texas, landing in Galveston on June 19, 1865. He supposedly issued a proclamation declaring the end of slavery as well as the end of the Civil War.

My favorite version of Juneteenth's history is that word of the slaves' freedom traveled slowly. Most folks learned of their freedom sometime between June 12 and June 20.

There are an equal number of stories about why the news of freedom took so long to spread. One version says that slave owners kept the slaves ignorant about their freedom in order to get their crops harvested. Another version says one messenger traveled by mule to deliver the news of the Emancipation Proclamation and it simply took more than five months to arrive from Washington, D.C. Yet another says the messenger was murdered before he could deliver the message.

Regardless of which version you accept, Juneteenth has always marked the end of slavery in the United States. It's an official state holiday in Texas, but the celebrations take place all over the country now. Although primarily an African-American holiday, it has now evolved into a celebration of the end of slavery by people of all races.

Happy Juneteenth.

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