What Is Juneteenth?

What Is Juneteenth?


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Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the end to slavery in the United States and is considered the longest-running African American holiday.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House two months earlier in Virginia, but slavery had remained relatively unaffected in Texas—until U.S. General Gordon Granger stood on Texas soil and read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”










The Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, had established that all enslaved people in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

But in reality, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t instantly free any enslaved people. The proclamation only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control. However, as Northern troops advanced into the Confederate South, many enslaved people fled behind Union lines.

Juneteenth and Slavery in Texas

In Texas, slavery had continued as the state experienced no large-scale fighting or significant presence of Union troops. Many enslavers from outside the Lone Star State had moved there, as they viewed it as a safe haven for slavery.

After the war came to a close in the spring of 1865, General Granger’s arrival in Galveston that June signaled freedom for Texas’s 250,000 enslaved people. Although emancipation didn’t happen overnight for everyone—in some cases, enslavers withheld the information until after harvest season—celebrations broke out among newly freed Black people, and Juneteenth was born. That December, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.

READ MORE: Does an Exception Clause in the 13th Amendment Still Permit Slavery?

The year following 1865, freedmen in Texas organized the first of what became the annual celebration of "Jubilee Day" on June 19. In the ensuing decades, Juneteenth commemorations featured music, barbecues, prayer services and other activities, and as Black people migrated from Texas to other parts of the country the Juneteenth tradition spread.

In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Today, 47 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, while efforts to make it a national holiday have so far stalled in Congress.

WATCH: Emancipation Proclamation: How Lincoln Could Abolish Slavery


What Is the History of Juneteenth?

On January 1, 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, United States President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The document ostensibly freed all enslaved people in the Confederacy, the former U.S. states that had taken the election of an antislavery president as reason to secede from the Union.

Contrary to popular belief, though, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t end American slavery, nor was it ever intended to do so. Northern states where slavery was legal, such as Missouri and Delaware, were not required to end the practice, nor were free Black Northerners granted the rights of American citizenship.

In the South the proclamation was intended as both reward and punishment: if a seceded state chose to return to the Union before January 1, it would not have to make slavery illegal if it refused to return before that date, then on that date its enslaved people would be declared free. (Since no states chose to return, the incentive proved to be a failure.) However, Confederate citizens no longer recognized Lincoln’s authority as president, deferring instead to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Southern slaveholders, therefore, felt no obligation to follow Lincoln’s orders. The enslaved people in the South who were liberated by the Emancipation Proclamation became free by force—either by self-liberation or by intervention from Union forces.

The proclamation’s limitations became especially clear on June 19, 1865—the day that enslaved people in Texas learned of it for the first time, about two and a half years after it was issued. By then the Civil War had practically ended, all Confederate forces having surrendered by late spring or early summer. A few months later the states that had rebelled would have to adhere to the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery everywhere in the United States, in order to be reintegrated into the Union.

News in the 19th century certainly traveled slowly. Texas in particular was a problem area: just over a decade prior to 1865, the U.S. postmaster general bemoaned the fact that the state (along with much of the American Southwest) was impossible to reach via steamboat, rail, or turnpike. Mail was delivered via stagecoach or wagon, a slow and unreliable mode of transport that was nonetheless a necessary part of Texas life until the service, which was funded by the U.S. government, was halted in 1861 following the state’s secession. By the time the Confederacy devised its own mail system, wartime stamp and paper shortages as well as Union blockades had made mail delivery sporadic at best.

But even when the unreliable mail system is taken into account, historians wonder how the proclamation was kept from enslaved Texans for so long. Did slaveholders purposely hide the news to maintain control over their plantations? Were messengers who attempted to deliver the news forcibly stopped from doing so? Did the federal government conspire with slaveholders to hold back the news so one final season of crops could be harvested by enslaved labour? Though evidence for these theories has yet to be found, each likely holds a kernel of truth. In any case, convenience and economics may well have been valued over the lives of the people whose freedom was at stake.

What is known for certain is how the news was, eventually, delivered. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with some 2,000 Union troops and the message that slavery would no longer be tolerated in the state. Since 1866 that day’s anniversary—known as Juneteenth, a combination of June and nineteenth—has been celebrated as the symbolic end of American slavery.


Other Contenders

There were other available anniversaries for celebrating emancipation, to be sure, including the following:

* Sept. 22: the day Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation Order in 1862

* Jan. 1: the day it took effect in 1863

* Jan. 31: the date the 13th Amendment passed Congress in 1865, officially abolishing the institution of slavery

* Dec. 6: the day the 13th Amendment was ratified that year

* April 3: the day Richmond, Va., fell

* April 9: the day Lee surrendered to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox, Va.

* April 16: the day slavery was abolished in the nation’s capital in 1862

* May 1: Decoration Day, which, as David Blight movingly recounts in Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, the former slaves of Charleston, S.C., founded by giving the Union war dead a proper burial at the site of the fallen planter elite’s Race Course

* July 4: America’s first Independence Day, some “four score and seven years” before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation

Each of these anniversaries has its celebrants today. Each has also had its share of conflicts and confusion. July 4 is compelling, of course, but it was also problematic for many African Americans, since the country’s founders had given in on slavery and their descendants had expanded it through a series of failed “compromises,” at the nadir of which Frederick Douglass had made his own famous declaration to the people of Rochester, N.Y., on July 5, 1852: “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham your boasted liberty, an unholy license your national greatness, swelling vanity.”

The most logical candidate for commemoration of the slave’s freedom was Jan. 1. In fact, the minute Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect at the midpoint of the war, Northern black leaders like Douglass led massive celebrations in midnight jubilees and on its 20th anniversary in 1883, they gathered again in Washington, D.C., to honor Douglass for all that he and his compatriots had achieved.

Yet even the original Emancipation Day had its drawbacks — not only because it coincided with New Year’s Day and the initiation dates of numerous other laws, but also because the underlying proclamation, while of enormous symbolic significance, didn’t free all the slaves, only those in the Confederate states in areas liberated by Union troops, and not those in the border states in which slavery remained legal until the ratification of the 13th Amendment. (Historians estimate that about 500,000 slaves — out of a total of 3.9 million — liberated themselves by escaping to Union lines between 1863 and the end of the war the rest remained in slavery.)

Because of its partial effects, some scholars argue that perhaps the most significant aspect of the Emancipation Proclamation was the authorization of black men to fight in the war, both because their service proved to be crucial to the North’s war effort, and because it would be cited as irrefutable proof of the right of blacks to citizenship (which would be granted by the 14th Amendment).

No one in the post-Civil War generation could deny that something fundamental had changed as a result of Lincoln’s war measure, but dwelling on it was a separate matter, David Blight explains. Among those in the ‘It’s time to move on’ camp were Episcopal priest and scholar Alexander Crummell, who, in a May 1885 address to the graduates of Storer College, said, “What I would fain have you guard against is not the memory of slavery, but the constant recollection of it, as the commanding thought of a new people.” On the other side was Douglass, who insisted on lighting a perpetual flame to “the causes, the incidents, and the results of the late rebellion.” After all, he liked to say, the legacy of black people in America could “be traced like that of a wounded man through a crowd by the blood.”

Hard as Douglass tried to make emancipation matter every day, Jan. 1 continued to be exalted — and increasingly weighed down by the betrayal of Reconstruction. (As detailed in Plessy v. Ferguson: Who Was Plessy?, the Supreme Court’s gift to the 20th anniversary of emancipation was striking down the Civil Rights Act of 1875.) W.E.B. Du Bois used this to biting effect in his Swiftian short story, “A Mild Suggestion” (1912), in which he had his black main character provide a final solution to Jim Crow America’s obsession with racial purity: On the next Jan. 1 (“for historical reasons” it would “probably be best,” he explained), all blacks should either be invited to dine with whites and poisoned or gathered in large assemblies to be stabbed and shot. “The next morning there would be ten million funerals,” Du Bois’ protagonist predicted, “and therefore no Negro problem.”


Slavery Didn't End On Juneteenth. What You Should Know About This Important Day

Emancipation Day is celebrated in 1905 in Richmond, Va., the onetime capital of the Confederacy.

It goes by many names. Whether you call it Emancipation Day, Freedom Day or the country's second Independence Day, Juneteenth is one of the most important anniversaries in our nation's history.

On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, who had fought for the Union, led a force of soldiers to Galveston, Texas, to deliver a very important message: The war was finally over, the Union had won, and it now had the manpower to enforce the end of slavery.

The announcement came two months after the effective conclusion of the Civil War, and even longer since President Abraham Lincoln had first signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but many enslaved Black people in Texas still weren't free, even after that day.

That was 156 years ago. Here are the basics of Juneteenth that everyone should know.

What Juneteenth represents

First things first: Juneteenth gets its name from combining "June" and "nineteenth," the day that Granger arrived in Galveston, bearing a message of freedom for the slaves there.

Upon his arrival, he read out General Order No. 3, informing the residents that slavery would no longer be tolerated and that all slaves were now free and would henceforth be treated as hired workers if they chose to remain on the plantations, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

General Order No. 3 was the final execution and fulfillment of the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation. The people to whom this order was addressed were the last group of Americans to be informed that all formerly enslaved persons were now free. National Archives hide caption

General Order No. 3 was the final execution and fulfillment of the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation. The people to whom this order was addressed were the last group of Americans to be informed that all formerly enslaved persons were now 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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer," the order reads, in part.

It's perhaps unsurprising that many former slaves did not stay on the plantations as workers and instead left in search of new beginnings or to find family members who had been sold away.

"It immediately changed the game for 250,000 people," Shane Bolles Walsh, a lecturer with the University of Maryland's African American Studies Department, told NPR.

Enslaved Black people, now free, had ample cause to celebrate. As Felix Haywood, a former slave, recalled: "Everybody went wild. We all felt like heroes . just like that, we were free."

Slavery did not end on Juneteenth

When Granger arrived in Galveston, there still existed around 250,000 slaves and they were not all freed immediately, or even soon. It was not uncommon for slave owners, unwilling to give up free labor, to refuse to release their slaves until forced to, in person, by a representative of the government, historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote. Some would wait until one final harvest was complete, and some would just outright refuse to submit. It was a perilous time for Black people, and some former slaves who were freed or attempted to get free were attacked and killed.

For Confederate states like Texas, even before Juneteenth, there existed a "desire to hold on to that system as long as they could," Walsh explained to NPR.

Before the reading of General Order No. 3, many slave owners in Confederate states simply chose not to tell their slaves about the Emancipation Proclamation and did not honor it. They got away with it because, before winning the war, Union soldiers were largely unable to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation in Southern states. Still, even though slavery in America would not truly come to an end until the ratification of the 13th Amendment, the Emancipation Proclamation still played a pivotal role in that process, historian Lonnie Bunch told NPR in 2013.

"What the Emancipation Proclamation does that's so important is it begins a creeping process of emancipation where the federal government is now finally taking firm stands to say slavery is wrong and it must end," Bunch said.

People have celebrated Juneteenth any way they can

After they were freed, some former slaves and their descendants would travel to Galveston annually in honor of Juneteenth. That tradition soon spread to other states, but it wasn't uncommon for white people to bar Black people from celebrating in public spaces, forcing Black people to get creative. In one such case, Black community leaders in Houston saved $1,000 to purchase land in 1872 that would be devoted specifically to Juneteenth celebrations, according to the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. That land became Emancipation Park, a name that it still bears.

Juneteenth is celebrated in Houston's Emancipation Park, which was created specifically for such celebrations, in 1880. Wikimedia Commons hide caption

Juneteenth is celebrated in Houston's Emancipation Park, which was created specifically for such celebrations, in 1880.

" 'If you want to commemorate something, you literally have to buy land to commemorate it on' is, I think, just a really potent example of the long-lasting reality of white supremacy," Walsh said.

Nevertheless, Black Americans found a way to continue to celebrate and lift one another up. Early on, Juneteenth celebrations often involved helping newly freed Black folks learn about their voting rights, according to the Texas State Historical Association. Rodeos and horseback riding were also common. Now, Juneteenth celebrations commonly involve cookouts, parades, church services, musical performances and other public events, Walsh explained.

People celebrate last year's Juneteenth by riding horses through Washington Park in Chicago. This year, it is a federal holiday. Natasha Moustache/Getty Images hide caption

People celebrate last year's Juneteenth by riding horses through Washington Park in Chicago. This year, it is a federal holiday.

Natasha Moustache/Getty Images

It's a day to "commemorate the hardships endured by ancestors," Walsh said. He added, "It really exemplifies the survival instinct, the ways that we as a community really make something out of nothing. . It's about empowerment and hopefulness."

And there's reason to be hopeful. After literal decades of activists campaigning for change, Congress has approved Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Correction June 19, 2021

A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Black community leaders bought the land for Emancipation Park in Houston in 1867. The land was purchased and park established in 1872.


Why is Juneteenth so important?

Well, it’s only important if you think all lives matter.

The Fourth of July is really a celebration of American independence from British control, but whatever freedoms that conferred, did any of them apply to enslaved Africans and their descendants?

The American victory in the Revolutionary War came in 1776.

The Emancipation Proclamation came in 1863.

That nearly 100-year discrepancy should be acknowledged, and Juneteenth does that.


When did Juneteenth become a holiday and how many states and companies recognize it as a holiday?

Congress passed a law making Juneteenth a federal holiday in June 2021 but 48 states and the District of Columbia had already passed legislation recognizing it as a holiday or observance.

The first official Juneteenth celebration came the year after the liberation of slaves in Galveston, but it would take more than a hundred years for Texas to consider it a state holiday. In 1980, Texas became the first state in the US to declare Juneteenth a state holiday.

The only two states yet to recognize Juneteenth as either a state or ceremonial holiday are Hawaii and South Dakota. Hawaii has passed legislation that would make Juneteenth a holiday but the bill is still set to be signed by the state’s governor.

While the majority of states observe the day, only a handful of states — outside of Texas — recognize it as a paid state holiday.

During the summer of 2020, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to give every executive branch employee a paid day off in celebration of Juneteenth and by October of that year, the legislature passed a law making it a permanent state holiday.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a similar announcement that summer when he signed an executive order recognizing June 19 as a paid holiday for state employees and later signed legislation that made the move permanent, as did the state of Washington.

After Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 brought a renewed focus to the plight of black Americans, private companies have also started to commemorate Juneteenth and some have designated it as a paid company holiday as well.

This is a running list of the companies that have recognized Juneteenth:

  • Best Buy announced employees will be offered a “paid volunteer day” for Juneteenth 2020 and in 2021, it became a “formal, paid company holiday.”
  • Allstate honors Juneteenth as an annual company holiday
  • General Motors held an 8-minute, 46-second-long moment of silence in 2020 in honor of Floyd, who was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
  • Google urged their employees in 2020 to cancel unnecessary meetings and encouraged staff to use the day “to create space for learning and reflection.”
  • J.C. Penney told staffers Juneteenth will be considered an annual holiday for workers.
  • JPMorgan Chase closed all Chase branches early at 1 p.m. on June 19, 2020, in honor of the day.
  • Lyft honors Juneteenth as a company-wide holiday.
  • Mastercard designated June 19 as a “Day of Solidarity” and urged workers to “pause and reflect” about all of the work left to do to “combat racism and discrimination.”
  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Juneteenth will be considered a league holiday and the NFL office was ordered to close on June 19, 2020.
  • Nike has made Juneteenth an annual paid holiday.
  • Postmates has declared June 19 an official company holiday.
  • Spotify will make Juneteenth a paid holiday for all employees.
  • Target workers who are paid hourly will receive time and a half for working June 19 and it is now a company holiday.
  • Twitter and Square made Juneteenth a company holiday in 2020 and moving forward.
  • Uber employees will be given a paid day off.
  • National Grid decided in 2021 to honor Juneteenth as an annual paid company holiday.
  • Media companies including VOX and NPR have made Juneteenth a paid company holiday.
  • Lush, the cosmetics brand, is recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for US employees.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a 156-year-old holiday celebrating the emancipation of African-Americans from slavery in the U.S. It is celebrated on June 19 (the name is a combination of the words "June" and "nineteenth") because on that date in 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army landed in Galveston, Texas and informed slaves that the Civil War had ended and slavery had been abolished.

Granger and roughly 2,000 Union soldiers were there to enforce President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which had actually gone into effect more than two years earlier, on January 1, 1863. (In fact, Lincoln himself had been assassinated a few months earlier, in April 1865.)

However, the more than 250,000 slaves in Texas were still shocked to hear the by then years old news that they were free, according to the National Museum of African American History & Culture.

On June 19, in Galveston, Granger publicly read General Order No. 3, which stated: "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free."

Today, there remain varying accounts of why it took so long for the news of slavery's abolition to reach Texas, with one story claiming that a messenger bearing the news was murdered on his way there. However, many historians note that Texas remained a Confederate state until 1865, when Robert E. Lee finally surrendered to the Union Army, and the state would therefore not have enforced Lincoln's proclamation until the Union took control.

Historians also report that many slave owners in Texas intentionally withheld information about the Emancipation Proclamation from slaves before 1865 in order to keep their labor force intact.

Regardless, Granger's arrival and the news that slavery had been abolished by the federal government kicked off widespread celebrations across the state.

In the book, "Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas," a former slave named Felix Haywood recalled the first celebrations on June 19, 1865: "We was all walkin' on golden clouds….Everybody went wild. We was free. Just like that we was free."


What Is Juneteenth? 12 Facts About The History Of Black Independence Day

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, but it took close to three more years before the full emancipation of America’s slaves was completed.

This historic moment came on June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to issue General Order No. 3, officially freeing America’s final slaves. This date, known as Juneteenth, has since been celebrated as Black Independence Day by African Americans across the nation.

In celebration of Juneteenth, we’ve gathered 12 facts about the history of the American holiday.

1. Though President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, demanding that the Confederate states return to the Union or their slaves would be permanently freed, the order was ignored. Even more undermining to the Proclamation was the fact that it did not affect slave-holding states that didn’t succeed from the Union, leaving a massive number of slaves still in bondage.

2. Texas and Oklahoma are the only states that recognize Juneteenth as a legal holiday. But more than 200 cities across the nation celebrate Juneteenth in some way, ranging from daylong festivals to longer events.

3. The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation is working to pass legislation to have June 19 designated as Juneteenth Independence Day, according to the Root. However, the Senate rejected the resolution.

4. According to Juneteenth.com, it isn’t known exactly why it took two and a half years for slaves in Texas to learn that they had been freed. Some accounts claim that a messenger was killed while heading to Texas to deliver the news others say that the slaves' owners purposely withheld the information from them. General Granger began Order No. 3 with the following statement informing slaves of their new status as freed Americans: "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."

5. In the decades following Juneteenth, several former slaves would travel back to Galveston to celebrate their Independence Day. The day would include entertainment activities such as rodeos, baseball and barbecuing. Guest speakers and prayer services would also be featured.

6. Strawberry soda pop and barbecuing have become closely associated with Juneteenth celebrations. 7. One of the first documented land purchases in honor of Juneteenth was organized by Rev. Jack Yates, according to Juneteenth.com. The fundraising effort brought in $1,000, leading to the purchase of Emancipation Park in Houston.

8. In Mexia, Texas, a local Juneteenth organization bought Booker T. Washington Park, the site of Juneteenth celebrations since 1898.

9. The celebration at Booker T. Washington Park was at one time one of the nation’s largest. More than 20,000 blacks would travel to the site over the course of the weeklong event.

10. Juneteenth celebrations declined in the early 20th century. This was partly the result of changes in the way new generations learned about the history of slaves, relying more on textbook teaching than on direct family testimony. Also, many textbooks claimed that the Emancipation Proclamation marked the end of slavery in the United States, with no attention paid to Granger's Order No. 3 in 1865.

11. Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas on Jan. 1, 1980. The effort was led by Al Edwards, a black state legislator. It was the first Juneteenth celebration given state recognition.

12. A modern-day movement has been launched to urge more blacks to recognize the importance of the day and its role in black history and culture.


The joy of Juneteenth: America’s long and uneven march from slavery to freedom

On June 19, 1865, Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger stepped onto a balcony in Galveston, Tex. — two months after the Civil War had ended — and announced that more than 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were free. President Abraham Lincoln had freed them two and a half years earlier in his Emancipation Proclamation, but since Texas never fell to Union troops in battle, they’d remained in bondage.

The newly emancipated responded with cries of joy and prayers of gratitude — a celebration that became known as Juneteenth. Black Texans marked the day each year with parades and picnics, music and fine clothes. The gatherings grew through the aborted promise of Reconstruction, through racial terror and Jim Crow, and through the Great Depression, with a major revival in the 1980s and 1990s.

Last summer, amid the racial-justice protests following the murder of George Floyd, millions of White Americans became aware of Juneteenth for the first time. Some companies announced they would give employees the day off on Juneteenth, and momentum grew to make it a national holiday. On Tuesday, the Senate voted unanimously to do just that. The House moved quickly Wednesday to pass the bill, approving the measure in a 415-to-14 vote, and President Biden signed the bill in the East Room on Thursday.

Martha Yates Jones, left, and Pinkie Yates, daughters of the Rev. Jack Yates, in a carriage decorated for Juneteenth outside Antioch Baptist Church in Houston. ( MSS0281-PH037, Schlueters Advertising and Souvenir Photographs/Rev. Jack Yates and Antioch Baptist Church Collection/African American Library at the Gregory School/Houston Public Library)

Singers from Zion Church at a Juneteenth celebration in Landover, Md. ( Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

The Oak Park Drill Team during Juneteenth celebrations in Minneapolis. ( Marlin Levison/Star Tribune/Getty Images)

Footage from a Juneteenth celebration in Beaumont, Tex. ( Beinecke Library/Yale University)

Members of the Hearne High School marching band take part in a Juneteenth parade in Austin. ( Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/AP)

But why celebrate nationally something that happened in a single state? Why not Dec. 18, the day in 1865 the 13th Amendment was proclaimed and the last enslaved people in the United States were freed? Or Jan. 1, the day in 1863 that Lincoln made his momentous proclamation, setting a course for the nation from which it could not retreat?

Why Juneteenth? Not only because “all the major currents of American history flow through Texas” — as Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Annette Gordon-Reed writes in her new book, “On Juneteenth” — but also because, as Black Texans moved across the country, they brought their day of jubilation with them. And embracing that moment has become a fitting way to mark the end of a war fought to preserve slavery.

At the start of the Civil War, these states still had legalized slavery. Most joined the Confederacy. Some were border states that remained loyal to the Union. In New Jersey, a gradual abolition law passed in 1804 — so gradual that the 1860 U.S. Census counted 18 people as “slaves.” The state government called them “apprentices for life.”

Congress abolished slavery in the District of Columbia on April 16, 1862. Nine months later, on Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln declared enslaved people in the Confederacy forever free — though slavery remained in effect on the ground. States loyal to the Union were exempt, as were Union-controlled parts of Louisiana, Virginia and Tennessee, but many enslaved people in those areas escaped to effective freedom as early as May 1861 in places such as Fort Monroe, Va.

Enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation generally followed battle lines, encompassing all of the Confederacy except Texas by the end of the war. Four states abolished slavery by state action before the end of the war: Maryland (Nov. 1, 1864), Missouri (Jan. 11, 1865), the new state of West Virginia (effective Feb. 3, 1865) and Tennessee (Feb. 22, 1865).

On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Tex., Granger issued General Order No. 3, freeing all enslaved people in Texas, in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation issued two and a half years earlier.

The 13th Amendment banning slavery was officially proclaimed on Dec. 18, 1865, after enough states had ratified it on Dec. 6. By then, the only enslaved people waiting to be freed were in Delaware, Kentucky and New Jersey.

Attendees at a Juneteenth celebration in Atlanta. ( Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP)

A young attendee waves as the Juneteenth parade passes by in Denver. ( Denver Post/Getty Images)

Demonstrators march on Juneteenth in New York’s Central Park. ( Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Boys at a June 19 gathering in Austin. ( Austin History Center/Austin Public Library)

Youths wait to perform in a talent show during Juneteenth celebrations in Burlington, Iowa. ( Scott Morgan/Hawk Eye)

Young Juneteenth paraders in Flint, Mich. ( Jake May/Flint Journal/AP)

A band marks Juneteenth in Austin. ( Austin History Center/Austin Public Library)

A protester marching in D.C. on Juneteenth during a rally calling for police defunding. ( Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

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Slavery unexpectedly connected the Kings and the Beckers. Both families have embraced the opportunity to learn about each other’s past with more clarity, despite layers of discomfort and awkwardness. “Having taught high school social studies and having spent my life in education,” John B. King Jr. said, “I thought about how illustrative this experience is of our need to do a better job of teaching in this country about the history of African Americans and the institution of slavery.” Read more

What Juneteenth tells us about the value of Black life in America

Gen. Gordon Granger delivered an order in Galveston, Tex., that emancipated 250,000 enslaved people on June 19, 1865. Granger’s clarifying words on the value of Black life in America distinguishes Juneteenth as emancipation day. But our ability to live up to that ideal as a nation is best measured in the days, weeks, and years that followed.

The struggle to memorialize a brutal lynching

The battle to approve a historical marker in Sherman echoes the controversial push in Texas and conservative legislatures to limit the teaching of racism in public schools. In 1930, George Hughes was lynched by a White mob that burned down the county courthouse and attacked the town’s Black business district. Read more

The joys and struggle of Juneteenth

Historian Annette Gordon-Reed grew up celebrating Juneteenth with her family and community in Texas. While the holiday started in the Lone Star state in 1866, it has grown in scope and prominence with celebrations across the country. Listen to Post Reports

About this story

Reporting by Gillian Brockell. Graphics by Kate Rabinowitz. Illustrations by Temi Coker. Photo research and editing by Karly Domb Sadof. Design and development by Frank Hulley-Jones. Editing by Lynda Robinson, Courtney Kan and Krissah Thompson. Additional editing and production by J.J. Evans, Sabby Robinson, Amber Ferguson, Lauren Tierney, Greg Manifold and Marian Liu.

Audio source: City Channel 4 - Iowa City

Map sources: Washington Post reporting, “Freedom’s Delay: America’s Struggle for Emancipation, 1776–1865” by Allen Carden and “The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865” by James J. Gigantino II.


Juneteenth has its own flag.

The original Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) founder, Ben Haith. While the Juneteenth flag has the same colors as the American flag, it is a unique symbol of American freedom and Black history.

The original red, white and blue design later underwent revisions in the 2000s, and the date June 19, 1865 was added to the flag. According to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, the Juneteenth flag includes an exaggerated star of Texas &ldquobursting with new freedom throughout the land.&rdquo


The History of the Juneteenth Holiday

Even though Blacks were still hunted and not seen as free immediately following the news delivered to them on June 19, 1865, they remained steadfast at celebrating their freedom. Due to segregation, massive outdoor parties were problematic to say the least. In 1872, defiantly and confidently, a group of Black community leaders in Texas contributed to a kitty of approximately $1000 in order to purchase 10 acres of land to have a place to commemorate the anniversary of their emancipation. They called it "Emancipation Park."

This move and others like it bore more unyielding celebrations, all rich with tradition. Slaves couldn&apost wait to peel off tattered garb and replace them with clothing that matched their worth-fancy dresses and dignified outfits. Barbecues were tantamount. The aromas of the food allowed celebrators to harken back to the meals ancestors once made. The drink of choice was always red-a social punch of Hibiscus tea and kola nut tea from West Africa became a staple, both having come to the Americas with the slave trade. These red drinks are known as a symbol of perseverance and resilience despite the blood shed and bondage endured by Black slaves.

Also, Juneteenth celebrations almost always had an education and self-improvement component. Respected elders wanted new generations to learn about the events of the past. Notably, Texas made Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1980.