June 19, 1865.
Referred to as “Juneteenth,” June 19 is the day that enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free per President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in Confederate states (though slavery legally ended throughout the United States months later with the ratification of the 13th Amendment).
In her book, On Juneteenth, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed offers a bit of history surrounding this momentous day, and the legacy of slavery in America.
Gordon-Reed, a Texas-native, grew up celebrating Juneteenth with her community. She fondly remembers festivities including red soda water (i.e., soda pop), fire crackers and barbecue—this was a homecoming.
“It was like the Fourth of July for Black people in Texas,” the Harvard professor told The Root. “After the end of slavery, they [emancipated men and women] wandered around looking for people. And to do this [celebrate with community] on Juneteenth is poignant because you recognize what happened in slavery. It’s almost a defiant way of saying ‘we’re together.’”
Annette Gordon-Reed’s great-great grandmother was born enslaved but was freed as a child. Gordon-Reed recounts a conversation with her great-grandmother, who lived until Gordon-Reed was a pre-teen.“My great grandmother’s mother had married three guys; they died. The last man that she was married to was enslaved until the end of the Civil War,” she said. “So my great grandmother knew people who had been a part of the institution”
Gordon-Reed says that here should be a day to commemorate the end of slavery.
“Thinking about the feelings of people who experienced that—they knew that they were walking into another struggle.” she said. “But they were hopeful and I wanted to commemorate that hope,”
See more reflections from professor Annette Gordon-Reed in the video above.