150 years ago today 150,000 slaves in Texas were finally freed.
It’s 1865. You’re a slave in Texas, it’s been three years since President Abraham Lincoln declared all slaves emancipated. But your life hasn’t changed; things are still terrible. In fact, hordes of slave owners from Louisiana, Alabama and elsewhere have decided they aren’t letting their slaves go without a fight, and dragged more than 150,000 of them to the Lone Star state and put them to work right next to you.
Then, on June 19 — 150 years ago Friday, in fact — it happens: Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army issues General Orders No. 3, declaring all slaves freed in the state of Texas. And thus was born Juneteenth — the most widely recognized (yet undervalued) commemoration of the end of American slavery. Everyone in the U.S. should celebrate Juneteenth.
[First image: a stylized graphic of black hands breaking free from chains. Second image: a black and white photo of a large crowd of black Americans in their Sunday best celebrating Juneteenth.]
Happy Juneteenth! This holiday marks the end of the official institution of slavery in the United States, and was historically widely celebrated by black Americans. The photo above is of a 1905 celebration in Richmond, Virginia.
On this day in 1865, enslaved people in Texas were informed of their freedom, two years following the Emancipation Proclamation. Also on this day, the Civil Rights Act of 1963 was passed, after an 83 day filibuster in the US Senate.
Two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, effectively ending the Civil War, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger steamed into the port of Galveston, Tex. With 1,800 Union soldiers, including a contingent of United States Colored Troops. Granger was there to establish martial law over the westernmost state in the defeated Confederacy.
On June 19, two days after his arrival and 150 years ago today, Granger stood on the balcony of a building in downtown Galveston and read General Order No. 3 to the assembled crowd below.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” he pronounced.
This was the first time many in the crowd had learned of the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Lincoln had issued two and a half years before.
White slaveholders had suppressed the news of the decree freeing the slaves in Confederate territory not under Union control.
“We all walked down the road singing and shouting to beat the band,” a Texas freedwoman recounted.
“Black men pitched their hats high in the muggy June air,” according to another report.
“Men and women screamed ‘We’s free! We’s free!’ ” Others left town, in what became known as “the scatter.”
The jubilation following Granger’s announcement in Galveston moved across Texas, quickly reaching the state’s 250,000 enslaved people.
A year later, a spontaneous holiday called Juneteenth — formed from the words June and nineteenth — began to be celebrated by the newly freed people of Galveston and other parts of Texas.
In 1867, Austin, the state capital, saw its first Juneteenth celebration under the direction of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the federal agency created to provide relief to people displaced by the Civil War.
Embraced as an exuberant day of jubilee, Juneteenth combined a history lesson and a political rally with the gospel hymns and sermons of a church service.
Barbecue was soon added to the mix — this being Texas — with strawberry-flavored red soda water to wash it down.
In time, rodeos, baseball games and family reunions all became part of Juneteenth tradition.
As former slaveholders attempted to maintain their control, this display of freedom was often met with violence.
Juneteenth revelers sought the relative safe haven of black churches — a poignant irony given the tragedy on Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. Some of these churches began raising money to buy land on which to mark Juneteenth.
In Houston, two black congregations collected pennies and nickels until a 10-acre parcel was purchased for $800 in 1872 and named Emancipation Park, which is still used today.
The festival of freedom spread across the former Confederacy in the late 19th century.
And as African-Americans moved north, they carried this celebration of liberation with them.
As Isabel Wilkerson wrote in “The Warmth of Other Suns,” her prizewinning account of the Great Migration: “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went. Even now, with barbecues and red soda pop, they celebrate June 19, 1865.”
Granger’s order was momentous, but it was no magic bullet. Even with the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865, the emancipated people of Texas, and the rest of America, confronted violent resistance as they attempted to claim the promise of their liberation. Any small gains came in the face of whips and guns, followed by the well-documented decades of Jim Crow laws and Klan terror.
Officially neglected, over time Juneteenth lost much of its resonance in the black community.
But it has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. Spurred by a revival of pride in African-American traditions long denied or suppressed, Juneteenth has gained official recognition — although not necessarily full legal holiday status — in a number of states, starting, appropriately, with Texas, which made Juneteenth a paid holiday for state employees in 1980.
Still, 150 years after its birth, Juneteenth remains largely unacknowledged on America’s national calendar. Many Americans are unaware of its existence, or its roots. Sadly, that ignorance of Juneteenth reflects a deeper issue: the continued existence of two histories, black and white, separate and unequal.
Frederick Douglass voiced that fundamental divide in a memorable speech on July 4, 1852. “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me,” he said. “This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine.”
Juneteenth is the flip side of the Independence Day coin. One hundred and fifty years after General Granger told the enslaved people of Texas they were free, Juneteenth is viewed by many of those who are aware of it as an “African-American holiday.”
That perception unfairly diminishes the fundamental significance of Juneteenth. The day should be recognized for what it is: a shared point of pride in the symbolic end of centuries of racial slavery — a crime against humanity and the great stain on America’s soul. As meaningful as Independence Day itself, Juneteenth completes the circle, reaffirming “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as the rights of all, not a select few.
TODAY is our Independence Day! While whites had centuries of celebrating July 4th as their Independence Day WE were PROPERTY that had NO BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS. WE celebrate Juneteenth because our freedom was hidden from us for years. Slaves were not aware of their freedom until years after slavery was abolished. White history will tell you the delay was due to “news traveling slowly” but we all know it doesn’t take two years to let everyone know that slavery had been outlawed. On June 19th, 1865 Over 250,000 slaves were freed in Texas alone, this day is reserved as the official Independence Day for blacks in America. HAPPY JUNETEENTH!
is one of the most important events in our nation’s history. On “Freedom’s
Eve” or the eve of January 1, 1863 the first Watch Night services
took place. On that night, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in
churches and private homes all across the country awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation
had taken effect.
the stroke of midnight, prayers were answered as all enslaved people in the
Confederate States were declared legally free. Union soldiers, many of whom were
black, marched onto plantations and across cities in the south reading small
copies of the Emancipation Proclamation spreading the news of freedom.
not everyone in Confederate territory would immediately be free. Even
though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not
be implemented in places still under Confederate control. This meant that in
the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be
free until much later. On June 19, 1865 that changed, when enslaved African
Americans in Galveston Bay, TX were notified by the arrival of some 2,000
Union troops that they, along with the more than 250,000 other enslaved
black people in the state, were free by executive decree.
Publishers throughout the North responded to a demand for copies of Lincoln’s proclamation and produced numerous decorative versions including this engraving by R. A. Dimmick in 1864. National Museum of American History, gift of Ralph E. Becker.
post-emancipation period known as Reconstruction (1865-1877) marked an era
of great hope, uncertainty, and struggle for the nation as a whole.
Formerly enslaved people immediately sought to reunify families, establish
schools, run for political office, push radical legislation and even sue
slaveholders for compensation. This was nothing short of amazing! Not even
a generation out of enslavement, African Americans were inspired and empowered
to completely transform their lives and their country.
my opinion, Juneteenth (as that day was called by the freed enslaved people in
Texas) marks our country’s second independence day. Though it has long been
celebrated among the African American community it is a history that has been
marginalized and still remains largely unknown to the wider public.
historical legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of deep hope and urgent organizing
in uncertain times. The National Museum of African American History and Culture
is a community space where that spirit can continue to live on – where
histories like this one can surface, and new stories with equal urgency
can be told.
Tsione Wolde-Michael is the Writer/Editor for the Office of Curatorial Affairs, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. She is also a Doctoral Candidate in History at Harvard University.
Happy Juneteenth, our annual celebration of the end of slavery
June 19 is Juneteenth: the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, came under authority of the Union Army orders ending slavery. It seems logical that Emancipation Day would be celebrated on the day of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that declared the end of slavery in the Confederacy on January 1, 1863. In New York it was August 1, in solidarity with the end of slavery in the British Empire. Read more
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19th, 1865, following the end of the Civil War, Union General Gordon Grander issued General Order No. 3 to free the remaining enslaved people in the United States — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln.
The order said: “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.”
Juneteenth celebrations are held to reflect, celebrate, and remember the continued contributions of African Americans to the United States.
Today is ‘Juneteenth’
a day commemorating the announcement of the end of slavery in the U.S.
While the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, it took years for all states to officially adopt the proclamation.
Texas was the last state in the Confederacy to do so. This photo (via Austin History Center, Austin Public Library) is from a 1900 Juneteenth celebration in Texas.
In celebration of Juneteenth, here are some striking illustrations by James I. DeLoache for Negro Heroes of Emancipation, a book researched and written by Mildred Bond and published by the NAACP as part of its celebration for the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation.
African-American soldiers in the Civil War
“This has been a labor of love for Mr. DeLoache, who has had as a lifelong interest the visual depiction of the Negro’s struggle for identity and achievement.”
On this day in 1865, the abolition of slavery was formally proclaimed in Texas, in an event which has been celebrated as ‘Juneteenth’ (a contraction of ‘June 19th’). President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in rebelling Confederate states not under Union occupation, on January 1st 1863. However, the proclamation had little effect in areas like Texas which were not under Union control. It was two years later, in June 1865, when Union troops under Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, that abolition came to the state. The Union contingent brought the news that the American Civil War was over, following the surrender of Robert E. Lee in April. Upon his arrival, General Granger read General Order Number 3 declaring slavery abolished, leading thousands of former slaves to leave the state to seek employment or to find their families. Slavery was formally abolished throughout the entire United States with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865. Juneteenth was one of the first celebrations commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States, and served as a poignant time for the black community in Texas and elsewhere to come together in solidarity as they endured the hardship of Jim Crow which followed emancipation. The celebration of Juneteenth waned during the early twentieth century, largely due to financial concerns, but resurged with the onset of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas, making it the first state-recognised emancipation celebration. Now, Juneteenth is spreading beyond Texas, and has become a day for celebrating African-American achievement, and remembering the legacy of slavery.
“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free”
- General Order Number 3, read by General Granger June 19th 1865
Today marks the day that African-Americans were freed from slavery. It was on June 19th, 1865 that the last slaves were freed from Galveston, Texas after the Emancipation Proclamation was established January 1, 1863.
It’s important that black people learn, embrace, and celebrate Juneteenth. Many of us celebrate the 4th of July, but don’t know anything about Juneteenth.
First, the American independence day is July 4th 1776, 89 years before black people were freed from slavery. During the American Revolution guess who was on the front lines fighting to help America gain their independence; Black people! What happened after they helped America gain their independence? They resumed they’re lives as being slaves.
Juneteenth is a part of our history. Your not going see to the media promote our history unless its in February. Especially the fact that the celebration is centered around freedom from slavery. Africans were enslaved for over 400 years and our ancestors fought and died trying to get their freedom. Remember them by embracing Juneteenth!!!
Today we celebrate Juneteenth-marking the end of slavery in the U.S.
My family has always celebrated it as a special time of service to others. As kids we cleaned, painted buildings and cooked for local churches and organizations so I cooked over the weekend for local celebrations
The U.S. has so far to go still in making all peoples or color full American citizens, of course.
Hey black people guess what?! TODAY is your Independence Day! Whiles whites had centuries of celebrating July 4th as their Independence Day WE were PROPERTY that had NO BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS. WE celebrate Juneteenth because our freedom was hidden from us for years. Slaves were not aware of their freedom until years after slavery was abolished. White history will tell you the delay was due to “news traveling slowly” but we all know it doesn’t take two years to let everyone know that slavery had been outlawed. On June 19th, 1865 Over 250,000 slaves were freed in Texas alone, this day is reserved as the official Independence Day for blacks in America. HAPPY JUNETEENTH! Oh an SN: on the 4th of July, the BBQ’s whites would have were LYNCHINGS they would BBQ young black men and castrate them as celebration. You can google post cards from lynchings that read “here’s the nigger from the BBQ we just had last Sunday” and you fools will STILL celebrate the 4th SMH #wakeup