Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration
commemorating the ending of slavery in the United
States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that
the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon
Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the
war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
Note that this was two and a half years after President
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had
become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation
Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the
minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new
Executive order. However, with the surrender of
General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of
General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally
strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
General Order Number 3
One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people
of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:
"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."
The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate
jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee
relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of
their former 'masters' - attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations
and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that
leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a
logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire
to reach family members in neighboring states drove some into Louisiana,
Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and
women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a
heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the
memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as
motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in
their new territory. The celebration of June 19th was coined "Juneteenth" and
grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration
was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining
family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades
later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage
back to Galveston on this date.
On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday through
the efforts of TX State Representative Al Edwards, an African American
legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first
emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. Representative
Edwards has since actively sought to spread the observance of Juneteenth all
One of the earliest documented land purchases in the name of Juneteenth was
organized by Rev. Jack Yates. This fund-raising effort yielded $1000 and the
purchase of Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas.
Today, Juneteenth celebrates African American freedom while encouraging
self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national
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. Two of the largest Juneteenth celebrations founded after
the 1960's are now held in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
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(c) copyrighted THE ROAR FOUNDATION, INC. April 2006
Last updated January 2007