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The History of JUNETEENTH

Emancipation Day celebration, June 19, 1900 held in "East Woods" on East 24th Street in Austin. Credit: Austin History Center.

On “Freedom’s Eve,” or the eve of January 1, 1863, the first Watch Night services took place. On that night, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes all across the country awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. At the stroke of midnight, prayers were answered as all enslaved people in Confederate States were declared legally free. Union soldiers, many of whom were black, marched onto plantations and across cities in the south reading small copies of the Emancipation Proclamation spreading the news of freedom in Confederate States.

There has been a noticeable increase in Juneteenth celebrations across the United States over the past few years. With this year’s holiday coming just over a month after a white gunman killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent U.S. history, Juneteenth celebrations may resonate in new ways.

by Derrick Bryson Taylor

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