Juneteenth: Celebrating Emancipation on June 19

Underground Railroad Heritage Center

In 1860, an upstart political party called the Republican Party won the White House for the first time, electing Abraham Lincoln to his first term as U.S. President. But the Democratic Party—the U.S.’s “home-grown party of genocide, slavery, and racism”——was not willing to accept the results of the election. Instead, they led a pro-slavery secession movement, creating a fake country called the “Confederate States of America” with a fake President, Democrat Jefferson Davis. The U.S. Civil War (1861-5) followed.

On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a political, ethical, and military masterstroke. According to the terms of this executive order, all human slaves would be emancipated on January 1, 1863, in all states “then in rebellion.” When the latter date arrived, Lincoln issued another executive order identifying the specific states that were “then in rebellion” and where, therefore, the Emancipation Proclamation applied, including Arkansas, Texas, parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and parts of Virginia. Legal scholars have debated the constitutionality of Lincoln’s maneuver ever since, and Lincoln, himself a great legal mind, was probably well aware that he was pushing the limits of executive power. But the practical effects of the Emancipation Proclamation are undeniable.

By 1865, the so-called Confederacy’s fake armies had been militarily defeated, and their leading fake generals, such as Democrat-KKK leader Nathan Bedford Forrest, had surrendered to loyal forces. But the news of the Emancipation Proclamation had been suppressed in certain areas so that people could continue to be held in slavery there. The last known such hold-out area was Galveston, Texas. Finally, on June 19, 1865, U.S. Major General Gordon Granger and his forces arrived to inform the slaves in that area that they were free according to the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation. In years to follow, this date became celebrated in the African-American community as “Juneteenth,” and Juneteenth is now a widely recognized celebration and an official holiday in many states.

Difference between Juneteenth and Abolition Day

In creating Abolition Day in 2015, the Humane Party considered numerous possible dates. The major options were:

  • September 22 (Emancipation Proclamation issued)
  • January (Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect)
  • June 19 (Juneteenth, the liberation of Galveston)
  • December 6 (13th Amendment ratified)
  • December 18 (13th Amendment proclaimed effective by Secretary of State Seward)

The selection of December 6 instead of June 19 for Abolition Day hinges on the difference between abolition and emancipation. Specifically, while Juneteenth marks the physical liberation of human slaves in a final hold-out area, the institution of human slavery itself still remained a legal possibility in certain parts of the U.S. as of the relevant date, because the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to those states listed in Lincoln’s Jan. 1, 1863, order. Notably, certain states that had never been “in rebellion,” such as Kentucky, did not abolish human slavery until after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. Meanwhile, until the 13th Amendment, there was nothing in the federal constitution to prevent a state that had abolished human slavery from allowing this legal institution to return. Thus, Abolition Day and Juneteenth mark different types of anniversaries to be celebrated.