Juneteenth was named a Federal Holiday just days before, but it has been recognized and celebrated in Georgetown for 69 years. Georgetown Cultural Citizen Memorial Association President Paulette Taylor explained, “This year’s theme is Education, Health, and Justice for All. It addresses current issues while embracing the reflection of our historical heritage and freedom.”Mayor Josh Schroeder added, “Freedom, friends, family, and fun,” as he officially proclaimed the date Juneteenth Independence Day in Georgetown.
WHAT IS JUNETEENTH?
June 19 is the day that traditionally recognizes the end of slavery in the United States. While many believe Abraham Lincoln’s executive order, known as the Emancipation Proclamation, “freed the slaves”, his 1863 order was just the first step.
President Lincoln’s document effectively changed the legal status—from slave to free—of more than 3.5 million African Americans. Following, many slaves had to wait to be freed either by state action, or as the 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865.
Texas was geographically isolated from the significant battles of the Civil War, and in a time without mass communication, slavery persisted, even after the Confederacy surrendered in April 1865. Finally, on June 19, Major General Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union soldiers landed at Galveston. He read aloud from a General Order, which said all slaves were free and any connection to former masters was forever and solely as employer and laborer.
In 1980, Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday, and Paulette went on to share the history, culture, and history of the celebration in Georgetown. Reflecting on the new Federal designation, she said, “With the stroke of a pen, and the persistence of many…with a shout for joy, Juneteenth has officially become a federal holiday. So now, we have Juneteenth National Independence Day; the first new designation since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.”
Dr. William Quickley says events like these remind him of Sidney Poitier when he became the first African American to win an Academy Award; “‘It took a long time to get to this moment.’ I think that says it all.”