Juneteenth and reparations: What it means and why it matters

Juneteenth, image from MGN

On Capital Hill, a House panel is holding a hearing on the topic of paying reparations to descendants of slavery. The hearing is being held on Wednesday, June 19, the 154th anniversary of Juneteenth: the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in the US.

As barbecues and live music commemorate the day, testifying at the hearing on Capital Hill is New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor Danny Glover supporting legislation that would establish a commission to study the consequences and impacts of slavery and make recommendations for reparations proposals.

The timing of the hearing on Juneteenth is also significant. The day is celebrated as a commemoration of the abolition of slavery.

It wasn’t until two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation when, on June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army read the proclamation in Galveston, Texas notifying slaves of their freedom and compelling the community to comply. Although enslaved people were officially free on January 1, 1863, news and information traveled more slowly and to select groups of people for a variety of reasons.

Before the proclamation was signed there were nearly 4 million slaves in the US. Further, 30 percent of the Texas population in 1860 was comprised of slaves or “bondsmen,” according to CNN. Now, 46 states and the District of Columbia have a law or resolution celebrating Juneteenth excluding Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Across the US the day is celebrated with festivals, cookouts, family reunions, live music, historical reenactments and more. One of the biggest and oldest celebrations occurs in Houston, Texas at Emancipation Park, Celebrating their 147th commemoration this year.

For decades, reparations for slavery has mostly been an idea debated outside the mainstream of American political thought but has lately been gaining support within the Democratic party on campaign trails.

CNN contributed to this article

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.