June Nineteenth, or Juneteenth, marks the celebration of the emancipation of African-American slaves in 1865. While the annual celebration started in Texas in 1866 — and became an official Texas state holiday there in 1980 — this formerly obscure holiday it is now observed across the United States, and around the world, and is an official holiday in most states. It is now celebrated with church-centered celebrations, parades, fairs, backyard parties, games, contests, and cookouts. Originally it began in Galveston, Texas to mark the arrival of Union Army Major General Gordon Granger who arrived two months after the end of the American Civil War to read General Order Number 3 which announced that “all slaves are free.” It read:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. 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.
Now President Abraham Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation was made effective more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863, but because Texas was under Confederate government control until the end of the Civil War, Juneteenth remains a day to remember. Some slaves who had moved away from their former masters returned for the annual celebration.
Though the popularity of the celebration waned during the early 20th century with the wider availability of classroom teaching and less emphasis on oral tradition, the Civil Rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s saw the wearing of Juneteenth freedom buttons, especially after the Poor Peoples March in Washington D.C.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian