Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Jessie. Jessie Wonders, “If slavery really ended, when did slavery end?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Jessie!

How do you celebrate freedom? Do you set off fireworks in America on July 4? If you live in Myanmar, you might throw a party on January 4. Many in France celebrate Bastille Day on July 14. People celebrate liberty in many ways!

Do you live in a country that has freedom of speech, press, and religion? If so, you’re lucky. Many people don’t have those rights. Even within countries, some people may have less liberty than others. Freedom was kept from African Americans for many years. Instead of being free, they were enslaved. This lasted about three hundred years. Slavery destroyed millions of lives.

Today, many Americans celebrate the end of slavery. Are you WONDERing on which day they celebrate? It’s not celebrated on January 1, the day in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln freed many enslaved people with the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s also not April 9, the day the Civil War ended in 1865. You might think it’s December 6, the day slavery was outlawed by the 13th Amendment. But that’s not it, either! People celebrate the end of slavery on June 19.

This holiday is called “Juneteenth.” It’s the date slavery ended in Texas. As the westernmost state in the Confederacy, Texas was one of the last states to keep slavery alive. Many slave owners ran away to Texas as the Union Army moved through the South. They did so to keep people enslaved longer. Communication moved slowly back then. That meant news that slavery was over took a long time to reach Texas. Months after the end of the Civil War, many African Americans in Texas were still enslaved.

That changed on June 19, 1865. That day, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas. There, he made it known that slavery was over. The 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were free. It was two months after the Civil War ended and two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. However, former slave owners didn’t want to accept the news. It was some time before people felt free.  

The first Juneteenth celebration was held in 1866. There, African Americans read the Emancipation Proclamation and prayed together. They spent time with their friends and family members and sang hymns. African Americans in Texas kept celebrating Juneteenth each year. As they moved to other parts of the country, the holiday spread.

With slavery over, African Americans still had a long fight ahead. It was several more years before they gained citizenship and the right to vote. For decades, they lived under segregation. They dealt with brutal treatment from white people who didn’t see them as equals. Today, African Americans still advocate for equal treatment under the law.

Juneteenth celebrations fell away in the early 1900s. However, they were revived in 1968. Reverend Ralph Abernathy’s Poor People’s March in Washington D.C. helped bring the holiday back. On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas. Today, more than 40 states and Washington, D.C. observe some form of the Juneteenth holiday.

How do people celebrate Juneteenth? There are many ways! Some families have cookouts. Others put on skits or share family stories. Some communities have parades. Often, it’s a time for community elders to pass on wisdom and for people to honor their shared history. Do you celebrate Juneteenth? How do you mark special occasions with your family and friends?

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