Author: Lauranett L. Lee

the curator of African American history at the Virginia Historical Society and author of Making the American Dream Work: A Cultural History of African Americans in Hopewell, Virginia (2008)


Juneteenth, which combines the words June and nineteenth, is a holiday celebrated by many African Americans to commemorate the end of legal slavery in the United States. It has its origins in June 19, 1865, the day the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, learned they were free when General Gordon Granger arrived with 2,000 Union troops and issued General Order No. 3, proclaiming the end of slavery in Texas. The following year, African Americans in Galveston began holding annual emancipation celebrations to commemorate June 19th in which they gathered to pray, hear from orators, and share their history over various culinary offerings. By the 1870s, Juneteenth celebrations were being held in surrounding states and often included a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, parades, games, rodeos, and barbeques. In Virginia, the date of celebration marking the end of slavery, sometimes called Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, differed in various African American communities. As some of these historic commemorations faded in the second half of the twentieth century, Juneteenth, one of the oldest celebrations of the end of slavery, gained popularity with the increased interest in African American history and culture. In 1980, Texas became the first state to commemorate Juneteenth as an official holiday. On October 13, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in Virginia.


Giles B. Jackson (1853–1924)

Giles B. Jackson, although born enslaved, became an attorney, entrepreneur, real estate developer, newspaper publisher, and civil rights activist in the conservative mold of his mentor, Booker T. Washington. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), he served as a body servant to his master, a Confederate cavalry colonel. After the war, Jackson worked for the Stewart family in Richmond, where he learned to read and write. Subsequently, he was employed in the law offices of William H. Beveridge, who tutored Jackson in the law. In 1887, Jackson became the first African American attorney certified to argue before the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The next year, he helped found a bank associated with the United Order of True Reformers, and in 1900 became an aide to Washington, who had just founded the National Negro Business League in Boston. Jackson organized and promoted the Jamestown Negro Exhibit at the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition of 1907 in the face of criticism from some black intellectuals that his attempt to highlight black achievement was itself an accommodation of Jim Crow segregation. He published a newspaper designed to publicize the exhibition and, in 1908, a book detailing its history. His efforts at the end of his life on behalf of a congressional bill aimed at addressing interracial labor problems failed. Jackson died in 1924.