18 June 2020
Friday is Juneteenth in the United States. It is a day when Americans mark the end to the enslavement of black people in the country. Juneteenth is often described as the nation's second Independence Day.
This year, Juneteenth takes on special meaning as millions of people around the U.S. enter the 25th straight day of civil rights protests. The demonstrators are demanding an end to police violence against blacks and unequal treatment of that population by law enforcement. Studies show a disproportionate number of blacks -- compared to whites -- die or suffer injury at the hands of U.S. police.
Juneteenth marks the day of June 19, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take command of the state. Texas was a member of the Confederate States of America, the alliance of southern states that had fought to keep slavery legal.
The general who led the federal troops had some important news and he wasted no time in telling it: the Civil War had ended and the South had surrendered.
The war had officially ended in April. But it is likely that most of the 250,000 slaves in Texas did not know that at the time. Many also did not know until June 19th that the president of the United States -- Abraham Lincoln -- had declared them free more than two years earlier. White slaveholders would have had little interest in reporting such news nor would they have likely accepted Lincoln's order as lawful.
The next year, black families and communities led celebrations and other events in Texas to mark the first anniversary of their freedom. In the years that followed, celebrations of the Texas event spread to other states.
In 1970, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth. Today, 46 other states also mark the anniversary. And, this week, the leaders of New York and Virginia signed orders to recognize Juneteenth each year as a day off with pay for government workers.
It seems likely the massive protests this year played a part in the governors' decisions.
The demonstrations began May 26th, the day after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The unarmed black man was killed during an arrest by police.
A video recording of the incident was shared widely on the internet in the hours that followed. In it, Officer Derek Chauvin is seen kneeling on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes. The former officer has been charged with murder in the case. Three others face charges of aiding and abetting murder.
Since Floyd's death, several other black men have been killed in interactions with the police.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order listing several police reforms. The next day, the U.S. Senate proposed legislation on the issue. And the House of Representatives is expected to open debate on its proposal for police reform next week.
I'm Caty Weaver.
Caty Weaver wrote this report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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