Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas — the last state in the Union to receive word of the ending of the inhumane institution.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger led a troop of Union soldiers to Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved would be set free. Word of freedom for Blacks reached Texas well after its legal date as President Abraham Lincoln formally ended slavery in the U.S. through the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
For two-and-a-half years more, enslavement continued in Texas despite the president’s executive order. It was only upon the arrival of Granger’s regiment that slave owners were forced to submit to the new law.
Granger read General Order No. 3 to the people of Galveston:
“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
According to the official history of Juneteenth, reactions to this life-changing news ranged from pure shock to jubilation in the streets of Galveston. While many lingered to figure out a new relationship with their former masters, others left immediately fleeing the plantations for freedom.
Even with nowhere to go, they felt that leaving the plantations would be their first shot at true freedom. Going north became a popular decision but others desired to reach family members in neighboring states such as Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma, according to Juneteenth history.
Today African-American communities around the U.S. celebrate the historic day with festivals, food, fellowship and dialogue surrounding the trials, tribulations and sacrifices of their ancestors.
In the beginning of the 20th century observances of Juneteenth began to decline. However, in the 1980s the holiday underwent a resurgence with Texas leading the way.
On Jan. 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official Texas state holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African-American state legislator. The successful passage of the bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition.
Juneteenth history asserts that today the holiday “celebrates African-American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.”
“As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing,” says published Juneteenth history.