TWIN FALLS — Idaho Gov. Brad Little this week issued a proclamation recognizing Friday as the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
“Juneteenth marks the celebration of not just a moment in the past but also a renewed shared commitment to ensuring equality and opportunity are a reality for all Americans, in the present and the future,” Little proclaimed.
In 2001, then Gov. Dirk Kempthorne established Juneteenth as a state holiday, making Idaho the fifth state to officially recognize the anniversary.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, formally declaring that all slaves in Confederate states were to be freed. But many slaveholders fleed Union forces to Texas, where they continued to use slave labor. More than two years after Lincoln’s proclomation, hundreds of thousands of slaves remained unaware of their freedom.
On June 19, 1865, about two months following the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed the last remaining slaves of their freedom. Thew newly freed black Americans celebrated with prayer, community gatherings and feasts. The celebration continued each year on the anniversary and the tradition became known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and then Juneteenth Independence Day.
The anniversary was informally celebrated for years by black Americans until Texas first recognized the holiday in 1980. Today, 47 states and the District of Columbia officially recognize the anniversary.
Justin Vipperman, a history professor at College of Southern Idaho, said celebrations of the holiday in Idaho have often been small, personal gatherings contained within black communities. Many people in the state are likely unaware of the date’s significance, he said.
That’s changed in recent years and especially this year, when broader recognition of the holiday has been spurred by renewed support for black lives and nationwide protests against systemic racism, he said.
It’s significant that the holiday is now being widely acknowledged in Idaho, where black history is overlooked by the general population, Vipperman said.
“This is kind of a big deal in Idaho because we don’t generally do these things,” he said. “We probably should have been doing this all along.”
Juneteenth is an opportunity for Idahoans to listen and learn about the state’s diversity from black voices, he said. It’s important for all citizens to understand how contemporary society is interwoven with the end of slavery, he said.
“This isn’t just black history, this is American history,” he said.
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