Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is set to be sentenced for the killing of George Floyd on June 16—just days before the Juneteenth holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.—after a jury unanimously found him guilty on three counts last week.
Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd’s death sparked mass racial justice protests, reenergizing the conversation about white supremacy.
Juneteenth’s proximity to Chauvin’s sentencing, in which the former officer faces a potential 75-year jail term, gives both events an added poignance.
Juneteenth (a combination of “June” and “nineteenth”) is a date of major importance in the history of Black emancipation and has long been a day marked by celebrations.
It’s “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States”, according to Juneteenth.com.
It commemorates events on June 19, 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army announced to the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas that they were now free.
Granger issued an order to that effect a few weeks after the Civil War had concluded, by which time President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated and the 13th Amendment, which officially abolished slavery in almost all cases, was headed for ratification.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” the order stated.
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“This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
“The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. This document ostensibly freed enslaved people in the then Confederate States but was largely symbolic.
The enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were the last in the south to be informed about their emancipation.
Over the years Juneteenth became established as the most widely celebrated day marking the end of slavery, though there were other possible contenders, according to historian and literary critic Henry Louis Gates, including September 22 and July 4.
Juneteenth was first officially recognized as a holiday by Texas in 1980 and today it enjoys recognition in 47 states and the District of Columbia. However, Juneteenth is not a federal holiday.
The end of slavery did not bring about the end of discrimination against Black Americans, however, and Chauvin’s sentencing, though seen as a seminal moment, is far from a conclusion to America’s ongoing racial justice issues.
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