The history of Juneteenth and how we should commemorate it today

Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900, Texas
People gather at a Juneteenth celebration in 1900 in Texas.
The Portal to Texas History, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday is Juneteenth, and across Minnesota and the country, events are being held to recognize the end of slavery in the United States.

The word “Juneteenth” is a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth.” On that day in 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned from Union soldiers that the Civil War had ended and slavery was over. They were now free. 

But they received this news two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which became official on Jan. 1, 1863.

Why did it take so long for the news to reach them? Was it deliberately withheld from enslaved people by owners in Confederate states that refused to comply with Lincoln’s order? Did someone literally kill the messenger tasked with spreading the word?

What we know for sure is that this year, 155 years later, there is more interest than ever in Juneteenth and its significance.

Companies and states are stepping up their observance of the holiday, and there is a renewed effort to make Juneteeenth a national holiday, too.

MPR News host Angela Davis talks to two historians about the history and meaning of Juneteenth and how we should commemorate it today.

Guests:

  • Daina Ramey Berry is a professor of history and African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of “A Black Woman’s History of the United States.”

  • Jemar Tisby is president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective and author of "The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church's Complicity in Racism."

Use the audio player above to listen to the program.

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