June Nineteenth, or Juneteenth, marks the celebration of the emancipation of African-American slaves in Texas in 1865. While the annual celebration started in Texas the following year in 1866 — and became an official Texas state holiday there in 1980 — this formerly obscure holiday is now observed across the United States and around the world. Yesterday, Congress and the President made it an official federal holiday. It is celebrated with church-centered celebrations, parades, fairs, backyard parties, games, contests, and cookouts.
Origin of Juneteenth
Originally it began in Galveston, Texas, to mark the arrival of Major General Gordon Granger, along with 20,000 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 in revolt, Juneteenth remains a day to remember. In addition, some slaves who had moved away from their former masters returned for the annual celebration.
Historical Context of Juneteenth
It is necessary to clear up some common misunderstandings about what Juneteenth was and what it was not. To do that, let’s look at the progression of slave liberation over almost a three-year period.