Virginia Tech Professor talks history of Juneteenth

WDBJ7's Lindsay Cayne reports
Published: Jun. 19, 2020 at 5:46 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Friday is Juneteenth--a holiday that celebrates the freedom of slaves. WDBJ7 spoke with a history professor at Virginia Tech to find out more about the history of this day.

Juneteenth started in Galveston, Texas. June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger announced general order number 3, proclaiming slaves in Texas are free.

“He’s enforcing Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation,” Lucien Holness, an Assistant Professor of History at Virginia Tech, said. He knows a lot about Juneteenth and its origins, and he teaches classes on African American History.

Holness says it's important to note that emancipation didn't happen all in one day.

“Depending on where you are in the south, African Americans will commemorate emancipation based off of different days because emancipation is not just one event, one moment, but it comes at several different moments,” he said.

Since the 1860s, African Americans have found ways to celebrate the various days of emancipation. In the 1870s, Holness says a Black newspaper reported Americans were advocating for a singular holiday. They lobbied Congress to support a version of Juneteenth. And in the 1970s in Texas, a black congressman proposed the holiday, and Texas became the first state to recognize it.

“These celebrations of emancipation in the south are important for community building, for these narratives of emancipation, promoting these stories of emancipation, and also demonstrating black progress in the years after emancipation,” Holness said.

This year, Americans are observing the holiday with protests instead of picnics, and they are pushing for Juneteenth to become a national holiday.

“To recognize and honor black contributions and a way for us to start a conversation and dialogue thinking about race, and social justice, and how we can bring about a more equitable and just society,” Holness said.

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