TUESDAY, JUNE 19: Stomp your feet to Gospel, recite Maya Angelou and cook up some soul food today in honor of Juneteenth. (Get soul food recipes from the Washington Post or Betty Crocker.) On this date in 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce emancipation of its slaves: the following day, Granger read aloud General Order No. 3 and the former slaves literally danced in the streets. Although Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862, freedom wasn’t a reality for most slaves—particularly those in the deep south of Texas—until it was insisted upon by leaders like Granger. (Wikipedia has details.)
Almost immediately after they were freed, former slaves in Texas began pooling any money they had to purchase land—for massive Juneteenth jubilations! Most of those parks still exist, such as Houston’s Emancipation Park and Emancipation Park in Austin. Annually, Texans publicly read the Emancipation Proclamation, as a reminder of a freedom that wasn’t always a given right. Historical reenactments, Miss Juneteenth pageants, dancing, African American music and street fairs are all popular on this celebratory day. (Get the scoop at Juneteenth.com.)
Families across the country today share stories, reexamine ancestral artifacts and celebrate their culture. Don’t think Texas is the only place where Juneteenth is recognized—41 states observe it as a state holiday, and several cities hold their own African American heritage events. (Read about Columbus’ festival in the Columbus Dispatch.)
Much of the modern Juneteenth celebrations can be credited to an historical gathering of 1994, when several national Juneteenth organizations were formed at Christian Unity Baptist Church in Louisiana. The National Association of Juneteenth Lineage and National Juneteenth Celebration Association are just some of the landmark groups to be formed at that meeting. In 1996, Juneteenth.com connected Juneteenth supporters across the nation.
Organizers are still working to pass legislation that would launch Juneteenth Independence Day as a National Day of Observance.