MONTGOMERY, Ala. — What is Juneteenth? It's a symbolic date representing African American freedom from slavery, celebrated on June 19.
The end of slavery is often recognized as when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863; however, Juneteenth recognizes when the last slaves were actually told about the president's order.
On June 19, 1865, two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery.
Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. This means that federal and state offices and services will be closed on June 18, as federal holidays are not observed on weekends. Mail delivery will continue.
The United States Postal Service said it would continue operating as normal over the new holiday. Officials said they would not be able to observe it appropriately on such short notice, and that they would not be able to stop operations since the USPS is part of national infrastructure.
The USPS's full statement can be read below:
The U.S. Postal Service is fully supportive of the new Juneteenth National Independence Day Act and making June 19 a federal holiday. Unfortunately, it is not possible to cease the operations of the Postal Service to accommodate an observance over the next 24-48 hours. We are part of the nation’s critical infrastructure and our customers are relying on us to deliver our essential services. Closing down our operations without providing appropriate time would lead to operational disruptions and be a disservice to our customers and those who rely upon us. For that reason, the Postal Service will be operating on June 18 and 19, 2021, on a normal schedule, serving our customers to the best of our ability.
Huntsville City Schools will be closed Monday, June 21 in observance of Juneteenth. This includes schools, offices, and facilities.
Summer Learning Academies, summer school, Extended School Year (ESY), and summer programming will resume on Tuesday, June 22.
Governor Kay Ivey announced the closures shortly after the bill was signed:
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) announced its Driver License Examining Offices across the state, as well as its other facilities, will be closed Friday, June 18, in observance of the nation’s new Juneteenth federal holiday. Gov. Kay Ivey declared the day upon President Biden’s declaration and signature, making June 19 an official holiday to commemorate the emancipation of slavery in the United States. ALEA will resume regular operating hours Monday, June 21. For more information on the agency’s Driver License Division and other services, please visit www.alea.gov.
Redstone Arsenal is also closed for the holiday, although Gates 8 and 9 will operate as normal. Gates 1, 3, and 7 will be closed.
If you need to visit a city or county office in Alabama, check with the individual location before you go.
Here are some interesting facts you may not know about Juneteenth:
- There are a few theories about why Texas slaves were among the last to learn they were free:
- One popular story is that the messenger on his way to the Lone Star State to deliver the news was murdered, according to Juneteenth.com.
- Others believe the news was deliberately delayed because the slaves were needed on the plantations.
- And a third theory is that federal troops waited for slave owners to get in one last cotton harvest before heading to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.
2. It was Major General Gordon Granger who was sent to Texas to tell the slaves they were free. He read General Order Number 3, which began: "The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."
3. Granger stayed in Texas through the summer and encouraged the former slaves to stay on as hired labor, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
4. But many of them didn’t wait around to see how things would go in Texas. Even with nowhere to go, some headed north to start fresh with their newfound freedom.
5. In the early years, some communities refused to allow Juneteenth celebrations on public property. Many families were forced to find rural areas for their get-togethers. Churches were another popular alternative since local governments had no control over them.
6. Some white landowners refused to allow their employees to attend the annual events. But the majority gave them the day off and some even contributed food and money, according to Juneteenth.com.
7. As African Americans themselves became landowners, they had more freedom to celebrate as they wished. One well-known example was the Rev. Jack Yates, a pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Houston. In 1872, Rev. Yates helped raise $1,000 to put down on 10 acres of land for future Juneteenth events. They named it Emancipation Park.
8. Due to racial segregation laws, Emancipation Park remained the only city park in Houston where African Americans were allowed until 1939 when Finnegan Park opened.
9. Through the years, descendants of slaves often made the journey to Galveston to celebrate the historic holiday in its birthplace.
10. In the early 1900s, Juneteenth celebrations became less common, in part, because black children were sent to school instead of being taught at home. Most history books failed to mention the events on June 19, 1865.
11. The Depression also forced most black Americans to leave the countryside to find work in the city. Their new employers weren’t likely to grant them the day off.
12. The Civil Rights era in the ‘60s sparked new interest in the history of African Americans in Texas, including Juneteenth. Young black protesters believed they were following in their ancestors’ footsteps by fighting for their rights.
13. In the late 60s, Juneteenth, which had rarely been celebrated outside of Texas, inspired annual gatherings in other parts of the country.
14. On January 1, 1980, a bill by Texas State Rep. Al Edwards was passed making Juneteenth an official state holiday. Texas was the first state to officially recognize an emancipation celebration.
15. With the events of 2020, Juneteenth takes on special meaning as cities across the country celebrate African American history and culture.