History of Juneteenth
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 47 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 Major General Gordon Granger, along with thousands of Union Army troops, 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.
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, and was the most remote of the slave states, 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 less emphasis on oral tradition and with the wider availability of classroom teaching, the Civil Rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s saw the wearing of Juneteenth freedom buttons, especially after the Poor People’s March in Washington D.C. in 1968.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had organized it, but following his assassination, Baptist minister and Civil Rights leader Ralph Abernathy led it.
This year, due to recent events, some companies will make the day a learning day, or a day without meetings, or a company holiday.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian