Feds celebrate Juneteenth

Feds mark the anniversary of the day slavery was finally abolished in the U.S., June 19, 1865, and participate in events tied to this newest federal holiday.

On June 19, 1865, federal forces led by Union General Gordon Granger finally brought word to the last enslaved African Americans in Texas and the U.S. that the Confederacy had been defeated—and slavery was outlawed throughout the land.

Finally, they were free.

The date became known as “Juneteenth.” Of course, to most of those affected, freedom—emancipation—was in reality a very complicated and slow process, one advanced only by the investment of even more blood, sweat and tears. The struggle endured another century, and indeed for many aspects of it up to the present day. Formerly enslaved Black people in Texas and elsewhere were usually still tightly tied to the land, and practically speaking had little choice but to work their former masters’ property as sharecroppers, on unfavorable terms.

Still, Juneteenth marked a crucial moment in the liberation of African Americans. Legal chattel slavery had ended. Annual celebrations followed, which last year Congress finally made into a national federal holiday—and a day off for most feds.

Federal employees and their organizations now use the day to mark the occasion with celebration and support for the recognition of the end of slavery—and a national coming to terms with the difficult truths of our country’s past, spotlighting progress made to date and pressing for more in the future. 

“Ahead of Juneteenth National Independence Day, NTEU joins the nation in honoring the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States.,” the National Treasury Employees Union said, in a statement celebrating the day.

“AFGE is proud to recognize Juneteenth. We honor the strength, resilience and hope of the Black community,” tweeted the American Federation of Government Employees.

Another major union, the National Federation of Federal Employees, and its president Randy Erwin offered not only the support of members in recognizing the day, but also emphasized the sad fact of the additional delay experienced in ending slavery in Texas.

“On Sunday, June 19th, we celebrate Juneteenth to commemorate the emancipation of the last enslaved Black people in the United States,” Erwin said. “Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in January of 1863, it was not until June 19, 1865 that the Union Army fully enforced the executive order by freeing the last people enslaved in Galveston, Texas, the westernmost rebelling state.”

The Biden White House, in its second annual statement on Juneteenth, shared its take.

“On Juneteenth, we recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice,” the White House stated. “And, we celebrate the centuries of struggle, courage, and hope that have brought us to this time of progress and possibility.”

“That work has been led throughout our history by abolitionists and educators, civil rights advocates and lawyers, courageous activists and trade unionists, public officials, and everyday Americans who have helped make real the ideals of our founding documents for all,” the administration continued. “There is still more work to do.”

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