|Emancipation Thomas Nast, 1865|
With its roots in 19th-century Texas, Juneteenth has grown into a popular event across the country to commemorate emancipation from slavery and celebrate African American culture. Juneteenth refers to June 19, the date in 1865 when the Union Army arrived in Galveston and announced that the Civil War was over and that slaves were free under the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the proclamation had become official more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863, freedmen in Texas adopted June 19th, later known colloquially as Juneteenth, as the date they celebrated emancipation. Juneteenth celebrations continued into the 20th century, and survived a period of declining participation because of the Great Depression and World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s Juneteenth celebrations witnessed a revival as they became catalysts for publicizing civil rights issues of the day. In 1980 the Texas state legislature established June 19 as a state holiday.
Undoubtedly celebrations of this historic event will be subdued this year by the tragic killings that took place in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday. Through our prayers for the survivors of this assault let us also remember the hope that June 19 brought to those in Galveston in 1865. May that hope sustain us as a people seeking equality and justice as we weave this great tapestry called the American experience.
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