Juneteenth History

  • Published
  • By Adriane Askins Wise
  • 2BW/HO

Last year on June 17, 2021 the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act established Juneteenth as a national holiday.

National holidays have a lot of meaning and history behind them.

Do you know the history of Juneteenth?

On June 19, 1865, approximately two and a half years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Major General Gordon Granger and more than two thousand Federal soldiers of the 13th Army Corps marched through Galveston, Texas presenting General Order, No. 3. The order informed Texans that, in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves were free.

The order was read throughout Galveston, Texas

In addition to announcing the end of slavery, Granger also declared laws passed by the Confederacy were void and Confederate soldiers paroled. He directed that citizens surrender all public property, including cotton, to the United States Army. Granger encouraged freedmen to remain at their present plantations and sign labor agreements with their former owners at their present plantations while waiting for further assistance from the Freedmen’s Bureau. He also discouraged them from congregating at military posts, remaining unemployed or expecting welfare.

It took six weeks for Granger and his men to deliver the message throughout Texas although it took months and even years in some cases before it was enforced by the Freedmen’s Bureau.

The first organized celebration commemorating Juneteenth and General Order No. 3, interestingly enough, was not celebrated on the 19th of June but the first of January the following year, sharing the third anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

While the exact year of the first celebration of Juneteenth on the 19th of June is unknown, the historical record suggests by the late 1870s it was commonly celebrated through many areas of Texas and had begun to spread to the neighboring states of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma; later appearing in Alabama, Florida and California as Texans migrated to other parts of the country. 

In many parts of Texas and elsewhere in the country, freedmen purchased land referred to as emancipation grounds for Juneteenth gatherings.

The most notable and earliest parks purchased in Texas include Emancipation Park in Houston, Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia, and Emancipation Park in Austin

Juneteenth celebrations diminished during the early twentieth century due to social, economic, and political pressures. Most notably were state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation and effectively disenfranchised black Americans.

Juneteenth celebrations all but disappeared during World War II only to regain momentum during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. 

While many southerners celebrate or have heard of Juneteenth, the now federal holiday was not commonly known by non-Black Americans as it was omitted from history books. However, momentum to recognize the occasion was generated by the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.

This is the second year Juneteenth has been celebrated as a federal holiday, it’s history spans over 150 years.