13:26 PM

Saturday marks 155th anniversary of Juneteenth

Newly signed law makes June 19 a federal holiday; state and federal judicial offices may be closed Friday in observance

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas, and announced that the enslaved people of Texas were now free. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed more than two years earlier, the reality was that it did not end slavery for all, rather it only announced freedom for slaves in states in rebellion i.e., the Confederacy. The end of slavery was not official until the adoption of the 13th Amendment in December of 1865. But, the following year, newly freed Black Americans in Texas organized community-wide celebrations on June 19, becoming known as Juneteenth.

Why is Juneteenth important today? To understand the significance of this commemoration, John Gunn, 2020-21 president of The Missouri Bar, provides the following viewpoint:

“Diversity of ideas and perspectives can feel threatening to many whose self-interest historically coincides with the efforts of society at large. After all, if we are honest with ourselves, many of us don’t occupy our spaces without a fairly massive assist from our privilege.

A cursory consideration of prominent surnames in the Missouri legal community provides a striking rejoinder to any suggestion that communities of color have not been marginalized within our profession. A conscious decision must be made by each of us to peer out from behind the privilege into which many of us were born to observe the spectrum of humanity our self-interest so often obscures.

Historical reluctance to acknowledge that privilege suppresses celebration by broad swaths of American society of the official end of slavery on June 19, 1865. Viewed in isolation, it seems anathema not to celebrate the formal termination of our country’s edition of one of the most dark and cruel manifestations of human avarice. June 19 provides another opportunity for us all to harmonize and appreciate the progress the date signifies, while simultaneously conceding how far it is we have yet to go.”

Gunn noted that as we continue as a society to work to educate ourselves about bias and the historical implications of racial disparity, it is important to recognize the significance of holidays like Juneteenth.

It is notable that Texas adopted Juneteenth as a state holiday in 1980 and Missouri has recognized the date’s significance since 2003. That said, it is also notable that the date has largely been unrecognized outside of Black communities for many years, even though celebrations have been held for more than 150 years marking Juneteenth’s importance. A bill was recently passed by Congress, which President Biden signed into law Thursday making June 19 a federal holiday. The action closes federal offices Friday, June 18, in observance of the new federal holiday. 

Earlier this year, Supreme Court of Missouri Chief Justice George W. Draper III authorized the closing of all state judicial offices for four hours Friday, June 18, 2021, for the Juneteenth holiday. Following the enactment of the federal holiday, the order was amended for the state's judicial offices to be closed the entire day ito allow staff time to reflect on the importance of Juneteenth.

Please check with your local court if you have questions about the hours of operation or need assistance. For more information about the full history of Juneteenth, an interactive article curated by the National Museum of African American History and Culture is available online.

Happy Juneteenth!