Juneteenth falls on June 19 every year and commemorates the liberation of African Americans from slavery. It was first celebrated by former slaves in Texas in 1865, when, two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the American Civil War, Union General Gordon Granger reached Galveston Bay, accompanied by 2,000 troops.
On June 19, General Order No. 3 was publicly announced. 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. 1
The former slaves celebrated their newfound freedom with exuberant songs, barbecue, and rodeos. Throughout the late nineteenth century, Juneteenth was established an African American tradition. But with the Great Migration towards the Northern industrial centers, the holiday declined in prominence.
Moreover, during the Reconstruction Era and the rise of Jim Crow, Juneteenth was not widely endorsed by state and federal governments, especially in the former Confederate States. In Texas, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in 1890.
Since the last decades of the twentieth century, however, there has been an increased activism to bring back Juneteenth into public conscience. Currently, Juneteenth is recognized as an official holiday in thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia. [Update: It is now celebrated in fourty-two states]2
At the Griot blog, you can read about Barack Obama’s proclamation for Juneteenth 2012.3
Davis, Kenneth C. “Juneteenth: Our Other Independence Day.” Smithsonian Magazine. 16 June 2011. Web. 20 June 2012. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Juneteenth-Our-Other-Independence-Day.html
Wikipedia: Juneteenth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juneteenth
- https://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ref/abouttx/juneteenth.html ↩
- Driver, Charlzetta. “Emancipation Celebration: Businesses in 42 States Now Observe Juneteenth.” Examiner.com. 19 June 2012. Web. 20 June 2012. http://www.examiner.com/article/emancipation-celebration-businesses-42-states-now-observe-juneteenth ↩
- http://thegrio.com/2012/06/19/president-obama-issues-juneteenth-proclamation/ ↩