Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States, fell on Monday this year, and social media lit up with tributes to the historic day.
On June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island, Texas, with 2,000 troops in tow, bearing the good news that President Abraham Lincoln had declared all slaves be freed. The announcement came two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, marking Texas one of the last states to emancipate its slaves.
According to Juneteenth.com, there is no confirmed reason as to why it took two and a half years for abolition to reach Texas, though the site notes that some speculate that a messenger was murdered on his way to Texas, while others believe the news was deliberately delayed by slave-owning Texans and federal troops.
President Trump issued his own official statement honoring the day, which has also come to be known as Emancipation Day, though his words arguably lacked the fervor and enthusiasm of former President Obama.
“Melania and I send our warmest greetings to all those celebrating Juneteenth, a historic day recognizing the end of slavery,” Trump said in the statement, recounting the series of events that led to Granger’s delivering the message of abolition.
“Granger’s astonishing words inspired soulful festivities and emotional rejoicing,” the statement continues. “Over the years, as freedmen and freedwomen left Texas, they took Juneteenth and its meaning with them. Today, we celebrate this historic moment in 1865, as we remember our Nation’s fundamental premise that all men and women are created equal. On Juneteenth 2017, we honor the countless contributions made by African Americans to our Nation and pledge to support America’s promise as the land of the free.”
Obama’s Juneteenth statement in 2016 was a tad more passionate, with details about the moment the Emancipation Proclamation was put into effect, and how the freeing of the Texas slaves indicated a movement toward a more just society.
“Today we commemorate the anniversary of that delayed but welcome news,” the statement read, referring to the two-and-a-half year delay. “Decades of collective action would follow as equality and justice for African-Americans advanced slowly, frustratingly, gradually, on our nation’s journey toward a more perfect union. On this Juneteenth, we remember that struggle as we reflect on how far we’ve come as a country. The slaves of Galveston knew their freedom was only a first step, just as the bloodied foot soldiers who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge 100 years later knew they had to keep marching.”
“Juneteenth is a time to recommit ourselves to the work that remains undone,” the statement continues. “We remember that even in the darkest hours, there is cause to hope for tomorrow’s light. Today, no matter our race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, we recommit ourselves to working to free modern-day slaves around the world and to honoring in our own time the efforts of those who fought so hard to steer our country truer to our highest ideals.”
In February, Trump was skewered on social media and on late night TV after he delivered a rambling speech in honor of Black History Month, confusingly calling the late Frederick Douglass “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”