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Juneteenth: Freedom Day

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In September of 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order freeing all enslaved Americans living in states in rebellion, effective January 1, 1863. It took the United States more than two years before it was able to put an end to the war that claimed more American lives than any other conflict.

As Union troops won back more and more of the Confederacy, many of the estimated 3 ½ million slaves were freed.

One Confederate state, Texas, was largely untouched by Civil War carnage. This led a lot of slaveowners from war-torn areas to relocate there for its relative safety.

Hostilities came to a formal end on April 14, 1865. It wasn’t until more than two months later that U.S. troops moved into Galveston, Texas, on June 19, to enforce the proclamation in one of the few remaining slaveholding areas of the country. Major General Gordon Granger posted a general order informing citizens of the proclamation, which was read aloud at Union Army headquarters, at the U.S. Customs House and at the site of the current Reedy Chapel AME Church, then known as the Negro Church on Broadway.

The following year, freed slaves in Texas commemorated the event with Jubilee Day, which was the forerunner of the modern Juneteenth celebration.

It wasn’t until 1979 that the Texas State Legislature voted to make the day a holiday. Although not a federal holiday, Juneteenth is recognized as a holiday in every state except for North and South Dakota and Hawaii. It’s been a holiday in Pennsylvania since 2019.

The Mt. Lebanon Public Library is developing a book list, creating an  e-newsletter and a featured Juneteenth web page [1], creating a library display and hosting a virtual children’s storytime with a Juneteenth book. Around the city, events are scheduled from June 12 to 27, including a three-day celebration at Mellon Park from June 18 to 20, music at Point State Park on June 24, 25 and 27 and a parade downtown on June 26.  Find a more complete schedule of events at visitpittsburgh.com [2].

Wondering about how to talk to your kids about Juneteenth? Read this interview [3] with Pitt history professor Alaina Roberts.