The Road to Freedom – The End of Slavery
The holiday, which gets its name from the combination of June and Nineteenth, is also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Juneteenth Independence Day and Black Independence Day.
On June 19, 1865, more than 2 years after President Lincoln declared all enslaved persons free, Major General Gordon Granger and Union Army troops marched to Galveston, Texas, to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and free the last enslaved Black Americans in Texas. At the time Lincoln had issued the proclamation, there were not enough Union troops in Texas to enforce it, but with the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the arrival of Granger’s troops, the Union forces were now strong enough to compel compliance.
Advocates for Juneteenth had called for a federal holiday for years, but it was the nationwide protests after the police killings of several Black Americans in 2020, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, that led to significant public awareness of Juneteenth. In June 2021, President Biden signed legislation that made Juneteenth a federal holiday. “This is a day of profound weight and profound power,” Biden said at the signing ceremony. He called it a day to remember “the moral stain” of slavery. Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Shumer, said he was proud to bring the bill to the floor. “It will be the only federal holiday recognizing the horrors of slavery and the transformative legacy of emancipation.
As President Biden signed the bill, Opal Lee stood by his side. Lee is a 96-year-old Texas native who led a ten-year effort to make Juneteenth a holiday.
According to Pew Research, at least 28 states and the District of Columbia legally observe Juneteenth. The bill stipulates that federal government employees will now get to take the day off every year on June 19. When the date falls on a Saturday or Sunday, they will get the Friday or Monday closest to the Saturday or Sunday on which the date falls.
On September 10, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation that designated the third Friday in June as a State and public holiday, known as Juneteenth Day. “Commemorating this date is just one component of our collective approach to end a generational cycle of pain and injustice that has gone on for far too long,” he said. “Every Juneteenth, we will celebrate the end of the physical chains which once held Black Americans down. While more work lies ahead to undo the oppression that remains, Juneteenth is an important marker that reminds us of our mission to create a society that enables our Black communities to achieve the full equality which they deserve.”
Sheila Oliver is the first black woman to serve as Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, and the first woman of color elected to statewide office here. She also serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. Oliver spoke out passionately. “Juneteenth is a reminder that centuries later, not all of us are treated equally and that freedom and democracy are not a given.” She shared her family history. “I am a direct descendant of slavery. My great grandmother, my great-great grandmother, that is my family. It is not even a past stain,” she said. “It is a current reality that we are living through the post traumatic slave syndrome, the PTSD, and the effects of that currently, right now. Thank you, Governor Murphy for this.”
Cammie Jones, a Texas native and Executive Director of Community Engagement & DEI at Barnard College, goes on to say that recognizing the day is not enough. “We should acknowledge Juneteenth as American history, not just Black history,” she said. “We should continue to figure out what liberation can look like. It shouldn’t stop or start on this day.”
Jones also suggests using Juneteenth as a starting point to learn more about systemic racism, and how we can help end it. “Slavery is over and you may not still see people picking cotton in a field, but there are definitely forms of systemic oppression that are still around to this day in our society, and it is up to each of us to look into our communities,” she said. “We need to do research and ask: What are forms of systemic racism? How can I be an ally, and not to take up space, but to provide resources and opportunities?”
Juneteenth is also a time to celebrate African American freedom and achievement and encourages us to respect all cultures.
Asbury Park’s celebration of Juneteenth this year includes plans for a parade – New Orleans style – and many other festive community events in and around our City. Check out the schedule of events and have a Happy Juneteenth!