Juneteenth (a portmanteau of June and nineteenth) – also known as African American Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, – is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it commemorates the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865 announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas. The day is now celebrated annually on June 19 throughout the United States, recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. The holiday is considered the longest-running African-American holiday.
Celebrations date to 1866, at first involving church-centered community gatherings in Texas. It spread across the South and became more commercialized in the 1920s and 1930s, often centering on a food festival. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, it was eclipsed by the struggle for postwar civil rights, but grew in popularity again in the 1970s with a focus on African American freedom and arts. By the twenty-first century, Juneteenth was celebrated in most major cities across the United States.
- 1 History
- 2 Contemporary celebrations
- 3 Notes
- 4 References
- 5 External links
- 6 Credits
Modern observance is primarily in local celebrations which generally reflect a balance between educational activities, recognizing African-American freedom and achievement, and entertainment. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs, and reading of works by noted African-American writers such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Festivities include rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, and Miss Juneteenth contests. Juneteenth has been used as a forum for social activism, still it primarily functions as a joyful celebration of the ever increasing contributions of African-Americans to American society and to the world.
The Civil War and celebrations of Emancipation
During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. It became effective on January 1, 1863, declaring that all enslaved persons in the Confederate States of America in rebellion and not in Union hands were freed.
Emancipation came at different times to various places in the Southern United States. Celebrations of emancipation, often called a Jubilee, occurred on various dates throughout the United States. News of the proclamation did not reach some enslaved people in Texas for another two and a half years. When it did, the celebration held on June 19th became the Juneteenth celebration we know today.
End of slavery in Texas
President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation had officially outlawed slavery in Texas and the other states in rebellion against the Union almost two and a half years earlier. Enforcement of the Proclamation generally relied on the advance of Union troops. Texas, as the most remote of the slave states, had a low presence of Union troops as the American Civil War ended; thus enforcement there had been slow and inconsistent before Granger's announcement.
More isolated geographically, planters and other slaveholders had migrated into Texas from eastern states to escape the fighting, and many brought their slaves with them, increasing by the thousands the enslaved population in the state at the end of the Civil War. Although most lived in rural areas, more than 1,000 resided in both Galveston and Houston by 1860, with several hundred in other large towns. By 1865, there were an estimated 250,000 enslaved people in Texas.
Despite the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, the western Army of the Trans-Mississippi did not surrender until June 2. On the morning of Monday, June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived on the island of Galveston, Texas to take command of the more than 2,000 federal troops, recently landed in the department of Texas, to enforce the emancipation of its slaves and oversee a peaceful transition of power, additionally nullifying all laws passed within Texas during the war by Confederate lawmakers. The Texas Historical Commission and Galveston Historical Foundation report that Granger’s men marched throughout Galveston reading General Order No. 3 first at Union Army Headquarters at the Osterman Building (formerly at the intersection of Strand Street and 22nd Street, since demolished), in the Strand Historic District. Next they marched to the 1861 Customs House and Courthouse before finally marching to the Negro Church on Broadway, since renamed Reedy Chapel-AME Church. The order informed all Texans that, in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves were free:
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.
Longstanding urban legend places the historic reading of General Order No. 3 at Ashton Villa; however, no extant historical evidence supports such claims. On June 21, 2014, the Galveston Historical Foundation and Texas Historical Commission erected a Juneteenth plaque where the Osterman Building once stood signifying the location of Major General Granger's Union Headquarters and subsequent issuance of his general orders.
Although this event is popularly thought of as "the end of slavery," emancipation for those enslaved in two Union border states (Delaware and Kentucky), would not come until several months later, on December 18, 1865, when ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment was announced. The freedom of formerly enslaved people in Texas was given final legal status in a series of Texas Supreme Court decisions between 1868 and 1874.
Formerly enslaved people in Galveston celebrated informally after the announcement. The following year, freedmen in Texas organized the first of what became the annual celebration of "Jubilee Day" (Day of Jubilee) on June 19. Early independence celebrations often occurred on January 1 or 4.
In some cities black people were barred from using public parks because of state-sponsored segregation of facilities. Across parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land to hold their celebrations. The day was first celebrated in Austin in 1867 under the auspices of the Freedmen's Bureau, and it had been listed on a "calendar of public events" by 1872. That year black leaders in Texas raised $1,000 for the purchase of 10 acres (4 ha) of land to celebrate Juneteenth, today known as Houston's Emancipation Park. The observation was soon drawing thousands of attendees across Texas; an estimated 30,000 black people celebrated at Booker T. Washington Park in Limestone County, Texas, established in 1898 for Juneteenth celebrations. By the 1890s Jubilee Day had become known as Juneteenth.
Early celebrations consisted of baseball, fishing, and rodeos. Celebrations were also characterized by elaborate large meals and people wearing their best clothing. It was common for former slaves and their descendants to make a pilgrimage to Galveston.
In the early twentieth century, economic and political forces led to a decline in Juneteenth celebrations. Gladys L. Knight writes the decline in celebration was in part because "upwardly mobile blacks [...] were ashamed of their slave past and aspired to assimilate into mainstream culture. Younger generations of blacks, becoming further removed from slavery were occupied with school [...] and other pursuits." Others who migrated to the Northern United States couldn't take time off or simply dropped the celebration.
The Great Depression forced many black people off farms and into the cities to find work. In these urban environments, African Americans had difficulty taking the day off to celebrate. From 1936 to 1951 the Texas State Fair served as a destination for celebrating the holiday, contributing to its revival. In 1936 an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people joined the holiday's celebration in Dallas. In 1938, Texas governor James V. Allred issued a proclamation stating in part:
Whereas, the Negroes in the State of Texas observe June 19 as the official day for the celebration of Emancipation from slavery; and
Whereas, June 19, 1865, was the date when General Robert [sic] S. Granger, who had command of the Military District of Texas, issued a proclamation notifying the Negroes of Texas that they were free; and
Whereas, since that time, Texas Negroes have observed this day with suitable holiday ceremony, except during such years when the day comes on a Sunday; when the Governor of the State is asked to proclaim the following day as the holiday for State observance by Negroes; and
Whereas, June 19, 1938, this year falls on Sunday; NOW, THEREFORE, I, JAMES V. ALLRED, Governor of the State of Texas, do set aside and proclaim the day of June 20, 1938, as the date for observance of EMANCIPATION DAY
in Texas, and do urge all members of the Negro race in Texas to observe the day in a manner appropriate to its importance to them.
Seventy thousand people attended a "Juneteenth Jamboree" in 1951. From 1940 through 1970, in the second wave of the Great Migration, more than five million black people left Texas, Louisiana and other parts of the South for the North and the West Coast. As historian Isabel Wilkerson writes, "The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went." In 1945, Juneteenth was introduced in San Francisco by an immigrant from Texas, Wesley Johnson.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement focused the attention of African Americans on expanding freedom and integrating. As a result, observations of the holiday declined again (though it was still celebrated regionally in Texas). It soon saw a revival as black people began tying their struggle to that of ending slavery. In Atlanta, some campaigners for equality wore Juneteenth buttons. During the 1968 Poor People's Campaign to Washington, DC, called by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference made June 19 the "Solidarity Day of the Poor People’s Campaign." In the subsequent revival, large celebrations in Minneapolis and Milwaukee emerged. In 1974 Houston began holding large-scale celebrations again, and Fort Worth, Texas, followed the next year.
Prayer Breakfast and Commemorative Celebration
In 1979, Democratic State Representative Al Edwards of Houston, Texas successfully sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a paid Texas state holiday. The same year he hosted the inaugural Al Edwards’ Prayer Breakfast and Commemorative Celebration on the grounds of the 1859 home, Ashton Villa. As one of the few existing buildings from the Civil War era and popular in local myth and legend as the location of Major General Granger’s announcement, Edwards’ annual celebration includes a local historian dressed as the Union general reading General Order No. 3 from the second story balcony of the home. The Emancipation Proclamation is also read and speeches are made. Representative Al Edwards died of natural causes April 29, 2020 at the age of 83, but the annual prayer breakfast and commemorative celebration continued at Ashton Villa with the late legislator's son, Jason Edwards, speaking in his father’s place.
Since the 1980s and 1990s, the holiday has been more widely celebrated among African-American communities and has seen increasing mainstream attention in the US. In 1991, there was an exhibition by the Anacostia Museum (part of the Smithsonian Institution) called “Juneteenth ’91, Freedom Revisited.” In 1994, a group of community leaders gathered at Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans to work for greater national celebration of Juneteenth. In 1999, Ralph Ellison's novel Juneteenth was published, increasing recognition of the holiday. By 2006, at least 200 cities celebrated the day.
In the early years of the twenty-first century, the holiday gained mainstream awareness outside African-American communities through depictions in entertainment media.
In the late 1970s when the Texas Legislature declared Juneteenth a "holiday of significance [...] particularly to the blacks of Texas," it became the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday. The bill passed through the Texas Legislature in 1979 and was officially made a state holiday on January 1, 1980. In the late 1980s, there were major celebrations of Juneteenth in California, Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, and Washington, D.C.
In 1996, the first legislation to recognize "Juneteenth Independence Day" was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.J. Res. 195, sponsored by Barbara-Rose Collins (D-MI). In 1997 Congress recognized the day through Senate Joint Resolution 11 and House Joint Resolution 56. In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 175, acknowledging Lula Briggs Galloway (late president of the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage) who "successfully worked to bring national recognition to Juneteenth Independence Day," and the continued leadership of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.
Most states recognize it in some way, either as a ceremonial observance or a state holiday. Texas was the first state to recognize the date, in 1980. By 2002, eight states officially recognized Juneteenth and four years later 15 states recognized the holiday. By 2008, nearly half of states observed the holiday as a ceremonial observance. By 2019, only three states did not yet recognize Juneteenth, and efforts were being made for them to officially recognize the holiday.
In 2020, state governors of Virginia, New York, and New Jersey signed an executive order recognizing Juneteenth as a paid day of leave for state employees.
Some cities and counties have recognized Juneteenth through proclamation. In 2020, Juneteenth was formally recognized by New York City as an annual official city holiday and public school holiday, starting in 2021. Also the City and County of Honolulu recognizes it as an "annual day of honor and reflection," and Portland, Oregon (as a day of remembrance and action and a paid holiday for city employees).
Some private companies have adopted Juneteenth as a paid day off for employees, while others have officially marked the day in other ways, such as moments of silence. In 2018 Apple added Juneteenth to its calendars in iOS under official US holidays. In 2020, several American corporations and educational institutions including Twitter, the National Football League, and Nike, announced that they would treat Juneteenth as a company holiday, providing a paid day off to their workers, and Google Calendar added Juneteenth to its US Holidays calendar. Also in 2020, a number of major universities formally recognized Juneteenth, either as a "day of reflection" or as a university holiday with paid time off for faculty and staff.
Juneteenth is a federal holiday in the United States. On June 15, 2021, the Senate unanimously passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday; it subsequently passed through the House of Representatives by a 415–14 vote on June 16. President Joe Biden signed the bill on June 17, 2021, making Juneteenth the eleventh American federal holiday and the first to obtain legal observance as a federal holiday since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was designated in 1983.
Observance today is primarily in local celebrations. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing", and reading of works by noted African-American writers such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Celebrations include picnics, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, blues festivals, fishing, baseball, and Miss Juneteenth contests. Strawberry soda is a traditional drink associated with the celebration.
The modern holiday places much emphasis upon teaching about African-American heritage, and Juneteenth celebrations often include lectures and exhibitions on African-American culture. Celebrations are commonly accompanied by voter registration efforts, the performing of plays, and retelling stories. The holiday is also a celebration of soul food and other food with African-American influences: "Juneteenth also functions as a culinary tourist event, with barbecue being the major draw."
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- Daniella Silva, What to know about Juneteenth, the emancipation holiday NBC News, June 16, 2020. Retrieved June 7, 2021.
- Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, 1862 The National Archives. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
- Slaves in Union hands had not been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation due to the limited scope of presidential "war powers."
- Lynn Brown, The Story of Juneteenth JStor Daily, June 17, 2016. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
- Henry Louis Gates, Jr., What Is Juneteenth? The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, PBS. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
- Alwyn Barr, Black Texans: A History of African Americans in Texas, 1528–1995 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1996, ISBN 978-0806128788), 24.
- Shennette Garrett-Scott, Rebecca Cummings Richardson and Venita Dillard-Allen, "When Peace Come": Teaching the Significance of Juneteenth Black History Bulletin 76(2) (Fall, 2013):19–25. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
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- Juneteenth and General Order No. 3 Galveston History. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
- Juneteenth Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
- Ed Cotham, Juneteenth: Four myths and one great truth The Daily News, June 18, 2014. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
- Harvey Rice, Galveston unveils long-awaited Juneteenth marker Houston Chronicle, June 22, 2014. Retrieved June 8, 2021.
- Jessie Carney Smith and Linda T, Wynn, Freedom Facts and Firsts: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience (Visible Ink Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1578591923).
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- Gladys L. Knight, "Juneteenth" in Jessie Smith, (ed.), Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture (Greenwood, 2010, ISBN 978-0313357961), 798–801.
- Gerald D. Jaynes (ed.), Encyclopedia of African American Society (SAGE Publications, Inc., 2005, ISBN 978-0761927648), 481–482.
- William H. Wiggins, Jr., "Juneteenth: A Red Spot Day on the Texas Calendar" in Francis Edward Abernethy, Patrick B. Mullen, and Alan B. Govenar (eds.), Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African-American Folklore (University of North Texas Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1574412833), 237-254.
- Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (Vintage, 2011, ISBN 978-0679763888).
- Emily Blanck, Galveston on San Francisco Bay: Juneteenth in the Fillmore District, 1945–2016 Western Historical Quarterly 50(2) (2019): 85–112. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
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- Thayer Evans, Galveston to receive Juneteenth statue Houston Chronicle, August 11, 2011. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
- Harvey Rice, Houston legislator recalls fight for Juneteenth holiday Houston Chronicle, June 19, 2015. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
- Matt Degrood, Galveston County Juneteenth events give voice to history, even amid pandemic The Daily News, June 18, 2020. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
- Wilfred D. Samuels, Loretta Gilchrist Woodard, and Tracie Church Guzzio (eds.), Encyclopedia of African-American Literature (Facts on File, 2007, ISBN 978-0816050734).
- Anne Dingus, Once a Texas-only holiday marking the end of slavery, Juneteenth is now celebrated nationwide with high spirits and hot barbecue Texas Monthly, June 2001. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
- S.Res.175 – A resolution observing Juneteenth Independence Day, June 19, 1865, the day on which slavery finally came to an end in the United States United States Congress, June 19, 2013. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
- Governor Wolf Declares "Juneteenth National Freedom Day" in Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, June 19, 2019. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
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- Honolulu to officially recognize Juneteenth KHON2, June 18, 2020. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
- Madison Smalstig, City of Portland will make Juneteenth a paid holiday, day of remembrance The Oregonian, June 16, 2020. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
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- Laura Ly, Amid nationwide rallies and celebrations, more cities, states and universities designate Juneteenth as an official holiday CNN, June 20, 2020. Retrieved June 10, 2021.
- S.475 - Juneteenth National Independence Day Act Congressional Record 117th Congress (2021-2022). Retrieved June 18, 2021.
- Ted Barrett, Ali Zaslav, and Alex Rogers, Senate unanimously passes a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday CNN, June 16, 2021. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
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- US to add federal holiday marking end of slavery BBC News, June 17, 2021. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
- Charles A. Taylor, Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom (Open Hand Pub. Llc, 2002, ISBN 978-0940880689).
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- Abernethy, Francis Edward, Patrick B. Mullen, and Alan B. Govenar (eds.). Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African-American Folklore. University of North Texas Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1574412833
- Barr, Alwyn. Black Texans: A History of African Americans in Texas, 1528–1995. University of Oklahoma Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0806128788
- Carney Smith, Jessie, and Linda T. Wynn. Freedom Facts and Firsts: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience. Visible Ink Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1578591923
- Jaynes, Gerald D. (ed.). Encyclopedia of African American Society. SAGE Publications, Inc., 2005. ISBN 978-0761927648
- Rodriguez, Junius P. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Emancipation and Abolition in the Transatlantic World. Sharpe Reference, 2007. ISBN 978-0765612571
- Samuels, Wilfred D., Loretta Gilchrist Woodard, and Tracie Church Guzzio (eds.). Encyclopedia of African-American Literature. Facts on File, 2007. ISBN 978-0816050734
- Smith, Jessie (ed.). Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture. Greenwood, 2010. ISBN 978-0313357961
- Taylor, Charles A. Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom. Open Hand Pub. Llc, 2002. ISBN 978-0940880689
- Wilson, Charles Reagan. Myth, Manners, and Memory: 4 (The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture). The University of North Carolina Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0807830291
All links retrieved June 10, 2021.
- History of Juneteenth
- Berkeley Juneteenth Festival
- Juneteenth: Fact Sheet Congressional Research Service (updated June 3, 2020)
- Juneteenth in the United States
- Details for Juneteenth Historical Marker at 2201 Strand, Galveston, TX 77550 Texas Historic Sites Atlas
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