Juneteenth: Oldest celebration of slavery’s end still marked with music, prayers, festivals and barebecues

One day after taking control in Galveston, Texas, General Gordon Granger—on June 19, 1865—stood on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa and read the contents of “General Order No. 3” enforcing the nation's Emancipation Proclamation.

One day after taking control in Galveston, Texas, U.S. General Gordon Granger—on June 19, 1865—stood on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa and read the contents of “General Order No. 3” enforcing the nation’s Emancipation Proclamation. Photo by N Saum, released for public use in Wikimedia Commons.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19: Gospel concerts, prayer services and barbecues nationwide celebrate the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States: Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day.

Despite President Abraham Lincoln’s issue of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, followed by the end of the Civil War—white Texans remained resistant to freeing slaves. Due to the minimal number of Union troops present in Texas, slavery continued in the state until June 18, 1865—the day General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops marched into Galveston and took possession of the state. (Wikipedia has details.) The following day, General Granger read General Order No. 3 before a crowd including elated former slaves. Formal celebrations for “Juneteenth” began almost immediately.

Although Juneteenth recognition has had its share of ups and downs over the past century, festivals have been growing rapidly since the 1980s. In Galveston, the center of Juneteenth, this year’s events—multiple Gospel concerts, a prayer breakfast, historical reenactments, a music festival and more—last for almost a week. As of 2012, Juneteenth was recognized by 42 of the United States and the District of Columbia; the term “Juneteenth,” grammatically a portmanteau of the word “June” and the suffix of “Nineteenth,” was coined in 1903.

Just one year following General Granger’s reading of General Order No. 3, freed former slaves had gathered enough money to purchase land for Juneteenth gatherings and celebrations. (Church grounds were also popular for gatherings.) Emancipation Park in Houston and Austin are examples of remaining properties purchased by former slaves. (Learn more history from Juneteenth.com.) In its early years, Juneteenth was a time for family members—some who had fled to the North and others who had traveled to other states—to reunite with relatives who stayed behind in the South. Prayer services have long played a major part in the celebrations.

As Juneteenth approaches its 150th year, Juneteenth.com offers news and information on events across the globe. Got a photo of your local Juneteenth celebration? Submissions are currently being accepted for the Juneteenth 150th Anniversary Yearbook.

Hosting a barbecue or other Juneteenth celebration? Find recipe ideas at Cinnamon Hearts or from Betty Crocker.

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