New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has declared Juneteenth – June 19 – a public holiday. The official holiday is a celebration of the June 19, 1865 abolition of slavery when Major General Gordon Granger in Galveston declared that all slaves in Texas were free. With Granger’s General Order No. 3 declaration, the last slaves in the United States were finally freed even though President Abraham Lincoln had reportedly abolished slavery two years earlier.
With the recent police killing of unarmed African Americans in the US and the protracted Black Lives Matter campaign, millions of Americans of various nationalities had marched for freedom and stood up against systemic racism, while most voices in the upper echelons of American power had condemned police brutality and racial attacks against black people.
Mayor de Blasio announced that starting 2021, June 19 will become a celebrated holiday in New York City after Governor Andrew Cuomo had earlier signed a public order making the date a paid holiday for state workers. Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day amongst many people.
“We’ll work with all the unions to work through the plan, give this day the importance and recognition it deserves,” Mayor de Blasio said. “Every city worker, every student will have the opportunity to reflect the meaning of our history and the truth.”
Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth a public holiday in 1980, and now 46 US states celebrate the date in one way or another. Virginia State Governor Ralph Northam, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, and other governors have signed orders making next year the commencement of the freedom holiday in their states.
Google, Nike, Uber, Twitter, and Amazon among other big tech companies are also giving their employees a day off on Juneteenth or giving them a paid day off.
Meanwhile, the US National Archives has found the original handwritten copy of General Order No. 3 decreed by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger declaring slaves free in Texas. David Ferriero, head librarian at the National Archives said the timing of the discovery of the order in black and white written form is terrific for the ongoing Black Lives Matter campaigns. The text reads:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
The now-famous document was found by Trevor Plante, the director of the textual records division at the National Archives. Plante went in search of the original order at the instructions of Michael Davis, a public affairs analyst at the Archives. The handwritten document is still in good condition even though it was handwritten 155 years ago by Granger’s aide, F.W. Emery. It will not be digitized and added to the catalog of the National Archives.