June 19, 1865, is considered one of the most significant U.S. Civil War dates. It’s the day the last of the slaves in the country were freed. Called Juneteenth day, the date is still celebrated, and 2015 marks its 150th anniversary.
For good research paper topics for your Civil War history, American history or African American culture class, consider writing about the historical significance of Juneteenth and its many ways to celebrate.
History of Juneteenth
The history of Juneteenth makes a good term paper. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all slaves were free as of January 1, 1863. But as the Civil War raged on, it took two more years for the news to spread. The last slaves to become free in the United States were in Texas, a region further west of the states that experienced the bulk of the war. Texas still had 250,000 slaves. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger, accompanied by thousands of federal soldiers to enforce the new law, arrived in the city of Galveston, Texas where he read General Order No. 3, which declared: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
“Juneteenth” is a combination of the month and date, it’s also known as Independence Day or Emancipation Day. The first official Juneteenth celebration was in Austin, Texas in 1867. Texas later declared the date a state holiday, and the day is now officially observed in 43 states.
Commemorate the meaning of Juneteenth
Another idea for a term paper is to discuss various ways of commemorating the significance of Juneteenth. For example, Texan Sam Collins, chairman of the Texas Historical Commission State Board of Review and member of the board of advisers for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is also a descendent of slaves from Galveston. In 2005 Collins purchased Stringfellow Orchards, a plantation where his ancestors were slaves. He preserved the property and its historical significance. “We must never forget what Juneteenth meant to the former enslaved people,” he said in “Juneteenth: 150 Years Ago, Black America Got Its Own Independence Day,” by Laura Saunders Egodigwe, posted June 19, 2015, on TheRoot.com.
Collins added: “Some people still suffer today in various forms of bondage; Juneteenth is a celebration that may give those people hope that they, too, may one day be free.”
Juneteenth Is for Everyone
Kenneth C. Davis, a prominent American historian, wrote an opinion piece in New York Times saying that we should not think of Juneteenth as an “African American” holiday. “That perception unfairly diminishes the fundamental significance of Juneteenth,” said Davis in “Juneteenth Is for Everyone,” posted on June 19, 2015. “The day should be recognized for what it is: a shared point of pride in the symbolic end of centuries of racial slavery — a crime against humanity and the great stain on America’s soul. As meaningful as Independence Day itself, Juneteenth completes the circle, reaffirming ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ as the rights of all, not a select few.”
Books about Juneteenth
Many books have been written about Juneteenth. All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom, written by Angela Johnson and illustrated by E. B. Lewis, shows the events of that important day through the eyes of a little African American girl. The book was reviewed by Elizabeth Dobler in “Black History Month Brings Forth Good Books,” posted in Topeka Capital-Journal February 2, 2015. Dobler said, “Beautiful watercolor illustrations depict the day, under the hot Texas sun, that a little girl and the other slaves on the cotton plantation learned of their freedom. Singing, prayer and joyful shouts could be seen and heard in the fields and around the campfire into the night. The next day everyone awoke to a time that would be all different now.” The book includes a list of historical dates, a time line of Juneteenth celebrations, glossary and resources for further research.
For more information, check out Questia’s library on African American History.
What are some other significant events of Juneteenth? Share with us in the comments.