ST. LOUIS • “Juneteenth,” also known as “Emancipation Day” or “Freedom Day,” has long been celebrated by African Americans as a heritage celebration much like the 4th of July, with parades, picnics, and civic engagements.
On June 19, 1865, Union Major Gen. Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued two and a half years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln, but Texas had not complied with the order. Enslaved people heard about their emancipation only when Union troops arrived to enforce it.
Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, both county and city leaders announced they would officially recognize the holiday and close their government offices to commemorate the date.
Congress passed legislation this week to recognize Juneteenth as a new federal holiday, the first since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Thursday, and because this year the new holiday falls on a Saturday, the legal holiday will be Friday.
With many in-person events being planned, Juneteenth may have special relevance this year as being one of the first holidays to be openly celebrated after the pandemic restrictions have begun to be rolled back and eased.
The city of St. Louis will host the first Juneteenth Caribbean Heritage Walkathon in Forest Park this weekend, alongside other festivities throughout the region.
Juneteenth should be marked as a quintessential American holiday: a day when Americans can grasp the reality and impact of Slavery, our historic victory over it, and come together to acknowledge a true celebration of freedom.