The History of Juneteenth

Co-written by Nick Rascona

Juneteenth is an annual holiday that has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s. The word Juneteenth is a combination of June and nineteen which is the day in 1865 that Union soldiers (led by Major General Gordon Granger) went to Galveston, Texas to announce that the war was over and that the enslaved people were free.

This happened two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 where the President established that all enslaved people in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union shall forever be set free. “But, didn’t the Emancipation Proclamation end slavery?”, you ask? Well, unfortunately, no; it didn’t and neither did Juneteenth, actually. Yep…that’s right. The proclamation only applied to states under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control according to History. Before General Granger arrived, Texas continued to enslave 250,000 people because of the lack of Union troops there was to enforce the new federal law. When General Granger did arrive he read something called General Order Number 3 to Texas residents, stating; “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.” But, even after he made this announcement slaves were not immediately freed. Some slave owners withheld the message from their slaves until after harvest season.

Although, they were free from slavery there was and still are laws that keep African Americans unequal from white people. Immediately following the ratification of the 13th Amendment was the start of Jim Crow laws. Texas refusing to abide by the executive order of the Emancipation Proclamation was one of our nation’s first examples of Jim Crow which were laws enforcing racial segregation. The introduction of these laws were called Black Codes. History states Black Codes as being: “strict local and state laws that detailed when, where and how formerly enslaved people could work, and for how much compensation. The codes appeared throughout the South as a legal way to put Black citizens into indentured servitude, to take voting rights away, to control where they lived and how they traveled and to seize children for labor purposes.” But, despite the odds still being against Black people in America, even when in some areas Black people were barred from celebrating Juneteenth in public places, but the celebration of a new life continued. In 1867, former slaves in Houston, Texas saved $1,000 to buy land in order to celebrate Juneteenth out in the open with no disruption. That land was named Emancipation Park and it still stands today with the same name.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons
A group photograph of 31 people at a Juneteenth celebration in Emancipation Park in Houston’s Fourth Ward in 1880.
Photo: Library of Congress
Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond, Va., 1905.

Today, Juneteenth is celebrated by cookouts, parties, parades, marches, music festivals, fashion shows, and many other public events.

Photo: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Protesters march towards the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Friday, June 19, 2020 –
Photo: © Tippman98x/
A Juneteenth parade in Philadelphia, 2019. –

A person doesn’t have to look hard, or far, to see the legacy of slavery in the USA. The effects slavery has on the American people is one that is painful beyond words. But, as we all educate ourselves on what happened this day in 1865 and we learn more about the perseverance and resilience of Black people throughout history and still today we can be assured that hope lives on.

On June 17, 2021, Juneteenth was made an official US federal holiday. Most federal government employees will have Friday off in observance of the historical day. But, we didn’t need Juneteenth to become a federal holiday to celebrate just as we’ve been doing since 1865 when celebration began.

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