This Friday is Juneteenth, a holiday that marks the date in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Now, a movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday is gaining local support.
Jan da Silva, a historian at the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, said that in Texas, families and friends have celebrated Juneteenth from the beginning.
“Some communities have parades,” she said. “Some communities have big places where they have — almost like festivals, where everybody in the community comes together. Barbecue is a big part of the celebration because you're in Texas.”
Two-and-half years after President Lincoln ordered slavery to end in most of the Confederacy, people in Texas were still in bondage. Federal troops arrived in Galveston on June 19th, 1865, to ensure that enslaved people were freed.
Juneteenth is not well known in Massachusetts outside the black community, she said, even though it’s a recognized holiday here and in most states.
Da Silva has signed an online petition calling for Juneteenth to be declared a national day of observance, like Flag Day.
“I think it's important to commemorate all types of American history, and in this case, black American history,” she said. “I think it's kind of sad that it's a day that most people don't know about because black history is not really discussed or taught in schools. And so this opens the door to start doing that.”
The petition, started by 93-year-old Opal Lee, of Texas, has nearly 200,000 signatures.
Not until December of 1865, when enough states ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, was slavery illegal nationwide, not just in the former Confederacy.
Still, Juneteenth is considered to be the oldest celebration of the end of slavery.