Hampton University professor explains the history of Juneteenth

Posted at 6:25 AM, Jun 19, 2020

HAMPTON, Va. - Juneteenth which is also known as Freedom Day is a holiday that acknowledges the day where the last slaves were officially freed in the United States.

News 3 reporter Samantha German spoke with Professor Robert Watson who is a history professor at Hampton University about the history behind the holiday and how it came to be.

Professor Watson explained the significance of Juneteenth while standing near the Emancipation Oak on Hampton University’s campus which is also considered another piece of hallowed ground. He explained it was there at the Emancipation Oak that slaves in Hampton, Virginia were read then President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation back in 1863.

But, here is where Juneteenth comes into play, Professor Watson explained that almost two and half years after many slaves knew they were free in this country – many slaves in Texas still had no idea.

So, on the 19th of June in 1865 - Professor Watson says there was a Major General named Gordon Granger who rode to Galveston, Texas on horseback to announce and spread the good news to the slaves in Texas that they had already been freed.

“So, that’s why it became Juneteenth. June 19th, combined with the month and the actual date that they learned. It made it historical,” explained Professor Watson. “It’s not just a day where people have barbeques and parties and celebrations, but they actually reflect on ways they can make today a meaningful day.”

Earlier this week, Governor Ralph Northam proposed new legislation making Juneteenth a state holiday.

Click here for a list of virtual and in-person Juneteenth celebrations being offered in Hampton Roads.