Juneteenth: Day to celebrate freedom

By Derika Upshaw, Fort Cavazos Public AffairsJune 20, 2024

People in sit down at covered tables and eat in an atrium.
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Soldiers from the III Armored Corps eat during the Morale Leadership Luncheon in honor of Juneteenth June 18, 2024, at III Armored Corps Headquarters. (Photo Credit: Photo by Derika Upshaw, Fort Cavazos Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL
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2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – President Joe Biden, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, lawmakers and guests, signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act Bill on Thursday, June 17, 2021, in the East Room of the White House. (Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Chandler West) VIEW ORIGINAL
A woman stands on a stage outdoors behind a mic on a stand while people sit in chairs on grass, looking on.
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff attend a Juneteenth concert, Monday, June 10, 2024, on the South Lawn of the White House. (Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT CAVAZOS, Texas Slavery was officially abolished with the 13th Amendment Feb. 1, 1865. However, Juneteenth is the oldest celebration known recognizing the end of slavery in the United States.

“Juneteenth represents not only the commemoration of the end of slavery in America more than 150 years ago, but the ongoing work to have to bring true equity and racial justice into American society,” said Joe Biden, U.S. president of the United States.

The Emancipation Proclamation stated enslaved people in the Southern states still in rebellion during the Civil War as of Jan. 1, 1863, would be declared free, according to the National Archives. However, it did not end slavery.

The last location to learn the war had ended was Galveston, Texas, on June 2, 1865, though Gen. Robert E. Lee, the general of the Confederate Army, had already surrendered on April 9, 1865, as reported by the National Archives.

However, it took until June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, for the slaves in Galveston to learn they were free when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, a Union general, announced General Order 3, as stated by the National Archives:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

This was the inception of Juneteenth, a combination of “June” and “19th.”

The next year on June 19, 1866, freedmen in Galveston organized the inaugural celebration of emancipation in the state of Texas, according to the National Archives. It was initially called Jubilee Day.

The number of Juneteenth celebrations took a hit throughout the years due to the Jim Crow era, the Great Migration and job restraints. Though many families leaving from Texas and spreading across the country took their traditions and celebrations with them, many still lacked knowledge of this important day in history.

“I first learned about Juneteenth while I was serving as the brigade command sergeant major for 1ABCT (1st Armored Brigade Combat Team), 1st Calvary Division, while deployed to Poland in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, when it was signed into law by President Joe Biden and became a federal holiday,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Calvin Hall, U.S. Army Garrison-Fort Cavazos command sergeant major.

Maj. Darren Herring Jr., 139th Regional Support Group, Louisiana National Guard, said he didn’t learn about it until he was an adult.

“I think the first time I really learned about it during my undergraduate years in college, I went to an historically black college university, Morehouse to be specific, and it was at Morehouse College that I was made aware of not only the holiday, but the history behind it as well,” he said.

Many cities across the country host many large celebrations for Juneteenth, and Fort Cavazos joined in the celebration.

Fort Cavazos III Armored Coprs Unit Ministry hosted their Morale Leadership Prayer luncheon and centered it around the celebration of Juneteenth.

“We hosted this event to draw attention to how morale leadership was displayed by Gen. Granger in executing the General Order 3,” said Chap. (Capt.) Kevin Betton Jr., chaplain of the III Armored Corps Unit Ministry. “We highlighted the moral leadership of several African Americans who fought to tell the story of Juneteenth, a national holiday, and recognizing those instrumental in carrying in the legacy of Juneteenth.”

Betton wanted to use this platform to educate his Soldiers on the holiday. The ministry plans on making this an annual event.

While there are large celebrations, some people want to be with just close family and friends to reflect on the freedom and importance of Juneteenth.

“I know on Juneteenth there are a lot of large events and festivals held across the United States, but my family and I use it as a day to bring the family together with a backyard cookout,” Hall said.

Over the years, Juneteenth has become more than a celebration of the ending of slavery. It has become a day of recognizing the advancement of people of color and the race toward equality for all Americans in the United States.

On June 17, 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday in the United States, as reported by the Congressional Research Service. All 50 states and the District of Columbia recognized Juneteenth as a holiday or observance, and at least 22 states and the District of Columbia have designated Juneteenth as a permanent paid and/or legal holiday through legislation or executive action.

“Juneteenth for me is the symbolism of freedom in a moment in time that captures the opportunity for African Americans or people of color to be free,” Herring said. “And it laid the foundation to the opportunities that have been afforded to me today.”