Today is Juneteenth, a symbolic day celebrating freedom for the descendants of formerly enslaved people. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Yet, many enslaved people, including 250,000 in Texas, were forced to continue their labor until 1865. On June 19th of that year, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and announced the official end of slavery in the state and the country. Even with Granger's arrival and decree, many people experienced little change in their day-to-day lives. African Americans labored for the same white landowners, and some were still not paid the wages promised them.
Following Granger’s proclamation, the African American population grew from 4.4 million in 1860 to 7.5 million in 1890. This was 12 percent of the country’s total population. On this map, different shades of brown show the 1890 population distribution based on census data. Most African Americans still lived in the South, but many had moved to the Midwest and Northeast. They established communities in urban areas like St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.
Texans have celebrated Juneteenth since 1866 with cookouts, parades, prayer meetings, and other community events. It became a state holiday in 1980 and has since become a holiday in 45 other states and D.C. Massachusetts is one of the states where Juneteenth is an official holiday. There are lots of celebrations happening around Boston today and this coming weekend!
The origins of the holiday celebrate a white liberator and his army rescuing the Black population from bondage. Today, it is a community-focused holiday that highlights the united strength of Blackness instead. People come together to remember and reflect on their shared history. In many ways, this history is not so far off. Not only is 1865 a mere 154 years ago, but Black Americans still feel the effects of slavery. Intergenerational trauma, systemic wealth inequality, and police brutality are only a few examples. Juneteenth represents both the massive difference between 1865 and today, and the immensity of what has yet to change.
The map featured in this post is from Part II of America Transformed, our exhibit on the changing landscape of the nation in the 19th Century. Part II goes up in November, and begins in 1862 in the midst of the Civil War. Come visit Part I: The US Expands Westward, until then!