Juneteenth is getting unusually widespread attention this year, as Americans protest police brutality and racism.
But some Americans have, for years, celebrated it as the day that marks our ancestors' emancipation.
June 19, 1865, was the day U.S. Army troops landed in Galveston, Texas. It was the aftermath of the Civil War. The troops informed some of the last enslaved Americans that they were forever free. They enforced President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which had taken effect on Jan. 1, 1863.
The proclamation declared freedom for the slaves of rebels in the South. It came after almost two years of war, and it took more years of war to enforce it. The order did not free every slave, and the document specified places where it did not apply.
Frederick Douglass, the activist who had been enslaved himself, said Lincoln was slow, even "slothful" in making this "obvious" move. But Douglass celebrated that "the dictation of humanity and justice have at last prevailed."
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This day, the 19 of June, is Juneteenth. Big employers like Twitter and Target made it a company holiday this year. General Motors will go silent for eight minutes and 46 seconds to remember the death of George Floyd. The president will not hold a campaign rally today after rescheduling under pressure.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Juneteenth is getting unusually widespread attention this year, as Americans protest police brutality and racism. But some Americans have for years celebrated it as the day that marks our ancestors' emancipation. June 19, 1865 was the day U.S. Army troops landed in Galveston, Texas. This was the aftermath of the Civil War.
INSKEEP: The troops informed some of the last enslaved Americans that they were forever free. They enforced a proclamation we will read aloud this morning. President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation took effect January 1, 1863. It declared freedom for slaves of rebels in the South.
KING: The Proclamation came after almost two years of war. And it took more years of war to enforce it. It didn't free every slave. The document you will hear specifies places it doesn't apply. Frederick Douglass, the activist who'd been enslaved himself, said Lincoln was slow, even slothful in making this obvious move. But Douglass celebrated that the dictation of humanity injustice have at last prevailed.
INSKEEP: So here, from NPR staff on this Juneteenth, are the words of the Emancipation Proclamation.
MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: By the president of the United States of America, a proclamation, whereas on the 22 day of September in the Year of Our Lord 1862, a proclamation was issued by the president of the United States, containing, among other things, the following - to wit...
KING: That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord 1863, all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thence forward and forever free.
SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: And the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons or any of them and any efforts they make for their actual freedom.
RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: That the executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation designate the states and parts of states, if any, in which the people thereof respectively shall then be in rebellion against the United States.
JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: And the fact that any state or the people thereof shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such state shall have participated shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such state and the people thereof are not, then, in rebellion against the United States.
DWANE BROWN, BYLINE: Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States, by virtue of the power vested as commander in chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion...
AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: ...Due on this first day of January in the year of our Lord 1863 and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of 100 days from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the states and parts of states wherein the people thereof respectively are this day in rebellion against the United States the following, to wit...
TONYA MOSLEY, BYLINE: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana - except for the parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin and Orleans, including the city of New Orleans - Mississippi, Alabama...
BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: ...Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia - except the 48 counties designated as West Virginia and also the counties of Berkley, Accomack, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth - and which excepted parts are, for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
KORVA COLEMAN, BYLINE: And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated states and parts of states are and henceforward shall be free.
GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: And that the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense, and I recommend to them that in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations and other places and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
WALTER RAY WATSON, BYLINE: In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be fixed. Done at the city of Washington, this first day of January in the year of our Lord 1863 and of the independence of the United States of America the 87th. By the president, Abraham Lincoln.
KING: The reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to commemorate Juneteenth today, also known as Emancipation Day or Black Independence Day.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREE AT LAST")
THE SOUL STIRRERS: (Singing) Oh, I'm free at last, free at last. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.