What IS JUNETEENTH?
Juneteenth is the name given to June 19 in celebration of the day that enslaved black people in Texas found that they were free. This day may also be referred to as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day or Emancipation Day.
During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, which became effective on January 1, 1863. This document had officially outlawed slavery in Texas and the other states in rebellion against the Union. Texas being the most remote of the slave states had a low presence of Union troops as the American Civil War ended; thus enforcement there was slow.
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 there and 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 the order of emancipation and declaring that all enslaved persons were free. They went to the Union Army Headquarters at the Osterman Building (this building was at the intersection of Strand Street and 22nd Street, but has been demolished. 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
By 1865, there were an estimated 250,000 enslaved people in Texas. They were told they were freed almost two and a half years earlier.
Although Juneteenth generally celebrates the end of slavery in the United States, it was still legal and practiced in two Union border states (Delaware and Kentucky) until later that year when ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished chattel slavery nationwide in December.
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.
Juneteenth celebrations 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 21st century, Juneteenth was celebrated in most major cities across the United States. Activists are campaigning for the United States Congress to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday. In 1979, Democratic State Representative Al Edwards of Houston, Texas successfully sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a paid Texas state 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.