NASHVILLE, TN — From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19 as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics, and family gatherings. Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday. On June 17, 2021, it officially became a federal holiday. 

Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House two months earlier in Virginia, but slavery had remained relatively unaffected in Texas—until U.S. General Gordon Granger stood on Texas soil and read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Juneteenth and Slavery in Texas

In Texas, slavery had continued as the state experienced no large-scale fighting or significant presence of Union troops. Many enslavers from outside the Lone Star State had moved there, as they viewed it as a safe haven for slavery.After the war came to a close in the spring of 1865, General Granger’s arrival in Galveston that June signaled freedom for Texas’s 250,000 enslaved people. Although emancipation didn’t happen overnight for everyone—in some cases, enslavers withheld the information until after harvest season—celebrations broke out among newly freed Black people, and Juneteenth was born. That December, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.

Recently, Nashville and Davidson County Mayor John Cooper submitted legislation to begin the process of acknowledging Juneteenth National Independence Day as a paid holiday for Metro employees.

“I submitted this request to the Civil Service Commission for their consideration and with their approval I will sign an executive order for Metro Government to celebrate Juneteenth as a paid holiday beginning in 2022,” said Mayor Cooper. “Adding Juneteenth as a Metro holiday is consistent with the Federal Government’s addition of Juneteenth to the list of Federal holidays this year.

Juneteenth is a day for Nashville and the nation to celebrate the freedom of all African Americans, reflect on the tragedy of slavery and racism in our country, and renew our commitment to fight racial injustice whenever, and wherever, it happens.”

Metropolitan Council Member At-Large Sharon Hurt and Council Member Tanaka Vercher have led previous resolutions calling for Juneteenth to be recognized as a Metro holiday.

“I am delighted that Nashville has joined the ranks of other major cities in recognizing the significance of Juneteenth and celebrating emancipation by making Juneteenth a paid Metro holiday,” said Council Member At-Large Sharon Hurt.

“Juneteenth is a special day for the Black community. By making Juneteenth a Metro holiday, we are paying homage to our ancestors and creating space to reflect on the legacy of slavery and racism in America,” said Council Member Tanaka Vercher.

A supplemental budget request sent to Metro Council includes $1.5 million incurred by adding a paid holiday. When Juneteenth falls on a Sunday, the holiday will be observed on the following Monday. If Juneteenth falls on Saturday, it will be observed on the Friday before by employees working Monday through Friday.

Rosetta Miller-Perry, Tribune publisher, points out that this comes at a time when Gov. Lee  has signed a bill banning critical race theory in schools and President Biden has said “The truth is, it’s simply not enough to commemorate Juneteenth. After all, the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn’t mark the end of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality, it only marked the beginning.”  He went on to say “To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue  towards that promise because we have not gotten there yet.”