Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. June 19, is recognized as a state holiday or observed in 42 states. Texas is widely considered the first state to begin Juneteenth celebrations with informal observances taking place for over a century. Juneteenth has been an official state holiday since 1890.
Although Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863, it had minimal effect on most salves’ lives, particularly in the Confederate State of America. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves.
Legend has it, on June 19, 1865, Granger stood on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa and the contents of “General Order Number 3.”
“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.”
Juneteenth is celebrated through a range of activities and traditions including rodeos, fishing, barbecuing, and baseball. Juneteenth almost always focuses on education and self improvement. Guest speakers often recount events of the past at gatherings and prayer services have long since been a part of these celebrations. Blues festivals have also shaped the Juneteenth remembrance.
Other traditions include an enunciated public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation as a reminder that the slaves have been proclaimed free. Many African American families use this opportunity to retrace their ancestry to the ancestors who were held in bondage for centuries, exchange artifacts, debunk family myths, and stress responsibility and striving to be the best you can be. Traditional songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and poetry from black authors such as Maya Angelou are often a part of celebrations.
Juneteenth’s popularity declined in the early 1960s, when the civil rights movement, with its push for integration, diminished interest in the event. By the 1970s African Americans had renewed their interest in celebrating their cultural heritage, which led to the revitalization of the holiday throughout the state. The first state-sponsored Juneteenth celebration took place in 1980.