JUNETEENTH (June 19th)
Each year Juneteenth (June 19th) commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The celebration takes place each year on June 19th, recognizing an event that took place in Texas in 1865.
The story of Juneteenth begins in Texas when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, with an announcement. As the community listened to the reading of General Orders, Number 3, the people of Galveston learned for the first time that the Civil War was over. After more than a century of slavery and years of war, it was official. All slaves were now freedmen.
“…the 19th of June wasn’t the exact day the Negro was freed. But that’s the day they told them that they was free… And my daddy told me that they whooped and hollered and bored holes in trees with augers and stopped it up with [gun] powder and light and that would be their blast for the celebration.” – Haye Turner, former slave.
News traveled slowly, even stubbornly during and after the War between the States. Over two years earlier, President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Only two months before Major General Granger arrived in Galveston, General Lee surrendered at Appomattox. And the country was already mourning the assassination of President Lincoln. Just weeks before Granger arrived, the official final surrender took place. And yet, this community in the west remained the last to know of their freedom. They required word, official word, to feel the effects of what was already happening in the rest of the country.
January 1, 1863 – Emancipation Proclamation signed
April 9, 1865 – General Robert E. Lee surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia
April 14, 1865 – John Wilkes Booth assassinates President Abraham Lincoln – Lincoln dies April 15, 1865
May 12, 1865 – Final battle of Civil War at Palmito Ranch, Texas (Confederate victory)
May 26, 1865 – Civil War officially ends when General Simon Bolivar Buckner of the Army of Trans-Mississippi enters terms of surrender
June 19, 1865 – Major General Gordon Granger arrives in Galveston, Texas
December 6, 1865 – 13th Amendment abolishing slavery ratified
August 20, 1866 – President Andrew Johson proclaims conflict officially resolved and peace restored
The Spread of Juneteenth
Chiefly, the celebration of Juneteenth grew from the profound experiences that day when many learned of their freedom. From that freedom, it grew out of the surmounting challenges that lay ahead. And it continues to grow from the perseverance required and the dignity to overcome adversity and achieve fulfillment.
Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day
Year after year, waves of people pilgrimaging to Galveston stand in one of the last places to receive the news. The celebrations spread much like the news spread to Galveston about freedom, slowly at first and then picking up speed. But Galveston isn’t the only place celebrations take place. Juneteenth Jubilees happen all over the country and world. In 2015, Juneteenth celebrated its 150th anniversary and celebrations spread around the globe.
In the U.S., 48 states officially recognize the observance. North Dakota most recently made the observance official in 2021. The Hawaii legislature passed SB939 to include Juneteenth as a state observance. As of April 29, 2021, the bill is in Governor Ige’s hands. The remaining state, South Dakota, passed SB71 in support of legally recognizing the holiday in 2021. However, the bill failed in the House at the beginning of March.
While the celebration is not a federal holiday, presidents have either remarked on the observance or released full messages specific to Juneteenth for the last two decades. However, no single president has proclaimed the observance, even for a single year.
HOW TO OBSERVE #Juneteenth
Join the oldest celebration of the end of slavery by exploring art, food, and history. Dive into the festivals celebrating the African-American culture that are integral to Juneteenth. Across the country, communities, vendors, galleries, and more, host delicious food, art, music, dance, and parades. All the while, the history of Juneteenth remains central to the festivities. There are many ways to experience the observance:
- Read the Emancipation Proclamation
- Watch documentaries about the announcement in Texas
- Juneteenth Jamboree by PBS
- A Time to Be Remembered (A Juneteenth Story) written by Hank Gray
- Attend a festival and share your experiences
- Read stories about Juneteenth to your children or for your own enlightenment
- All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis
- The Story of Juneteenth: An Interactive History Adventure by Steven Otfinoski
- Raise a Juneteenth flag which is half red, half blue with a white 5 point star in the middle. The star is surrounded by a white 12 point star. The flag symbolizes Texas bursting with freedom and the end of slavery.
Find a festival or event near you. Share your experiences, photos, and stories using #Juneteenth to share on social media.
Since General Major Gordon Granger reached Galveston on June 19, 1865, Juneteenth (coined by combining June and nineteenth), has grown in waves. With the 150th anniversary, the celebration reached worldwide attention.
In June 2021, the U.S. Congress passed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday. President Joseph Biden signed the legislation into law on June 18, 2021, declaring Juneteenth National Independence Day. Federal offices will observe the day on the closest weekday if Juneteenth lands on a weekend.
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