• Polymath Weekly

The Brief History of Juneteenth

Updated: Jul 23

Short for "June Nineteenth," Juneteenth honors the day when slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865.


The American Civil War (1861-1865)


The American Civil War (1861-1865) broke out between northern and southern states, which was mainly caused by long debates over issues like slavery and the rights of the states.


After Abraham Lincoln was elected US's 16th president, 7 (and later 4 more) states decided to separate themselves from the US and unite to form the Confederate States of America .

The states colored red represent the Confederate States. [Image Source: Vivid Maps]
The states colored red represent the 11 Confederate States of America. [Image Source: Vivid Maps]

The economy of the Confederate states largely depended on slave labour in agriculture, making slavery important to them. The people (one of whom was Abraham Lincoln) in northern states (where economy was based on manufacturing) opposed slavery and its spread across North America.


The Emancipation Proclamation


In 1962, Lincoln issued the preliminary (i.e. 'trial') Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that the slaves in the Confederate States “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free” if the Confederate States did not rejoin the Union (the United States) by 1963.

Abraham Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet members.
Abraham Lincoln reading the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet members. [Image Source: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images]

Though the intentions behind the proclamation were mostly political and aimed to keep the Union whole, the act still held a lot of symbolic power; The proclamation eventually paved the way for complete abolition of slavery when the 13th Amendment was approved by by the US government in January 1865.


Why June 19th?


On June 19th of the same year, the federal troops arrived in a city in Texas to ensure that all of the slaves were freed. A year after, the freed Black people in Texas organized the first ever celebration of Juneteenth, which featured barbecues, music and prayer services.


Though celebrations go back over 150 years, Juneteenth became a federal holiday after US's President Joe Biden signed it into law last June.

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