History of Juneteenth

On the 19th of June, people all over the United States celebrate the holiday called “Juneteenth”, and every year celebrations grow. But what exactly are they celebrating?

Juneteenth is also known as “Emancipation Day”, or “Freedom Day”. It celebrates the freedom of slaves after the American Civil War.

But why June 19th ?

Some things take longer than you think they should, the actual freedom for America’s slaves was one of them. The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on Jan 1st, 1863. Unfortunately, it had little effect for some slaves.

But, on June 19th, 1865 General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with 2000 Union troops and read the following words :

“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.”

It’s hard to imagine the effect those words had on the slaves and others gathered there. Those words are part of the “General Order #3”. The reaction to them ranged from immediate celebration, to shock. The memories of that day and that reaction, has turned into the holiday known as Juneteenth. The oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery in the US.

The following year, the celebration spread from Texas to neighboring states, with some slave going back to Galveston, as a sort of pilgrimage to celebrate their new freedom. As the number of decedents of those slaves grew, so did the celebration.

The early years.

In the beginning there was some resistance to this celebration, some places did not allow it to be celebrated on public land, so it was often celebrated in the woods, with barbecuing and fishing, very much like the fourth of July is celebrated. While some people refused to give their laborers the day off, many did and the celebration continued this way until the early 1900’s.

The early 1900’s.

The celebration declined in the early 1900’s for various reason’s. One often cited reason is the rise of classroom education as opposed to home schooling. Indeed, text book education, seems to put more emphasis on the actual signing of the emancipation proclamation, and makes no mention of the impact of General Granger’s arrival in Galveston on June 19th 1865. In fact, this author remembers with some annoyance, not discovering the celebration or event until many years after graduating both HS and college. an amazing feat, considering there were several black history classes in her college years.

The 1930’s and 40’s

The depression in the 1930’s caused many people to leave rural area’s where Juneteenth was celebrated, doing further damage. City employees saw little reason to grant the day off and it often could not be celebrated unless it fell on a weekend. Since July 4th was celebrated as America’s independence day, Juneteenth seemed almost forgotten.

The 1950’s and 60’s

The civil rights movement had a number of effects on the Juneteenth celebration, although it seemed forgotten in the then current quest for civil rights.

In 1968 the Rev Ralph Abernathy lead the Poor People’s March on Washington DC and many of those marchers went home and celebrated the holiday. It seemed the beginning of a resurgence.

The 1980’s and after

In 1980 Juneteenth became an official holiday in the state of Texas and there has been a growing interest in the holiday since then.

Juneteenth today

Today Juneteenth celebrations can be found in many large cites as well as rural area’s of the United States.

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