Juneteenth Independence Day: U.S. Senate establishes title as events expand

Group of African-American singers under white tent

A Gospel choir sings for a Juneteenth celebration in Maryland. (Photo by Elvert Barnes, courtesy of Flickr)

SUNDAY, JUNE 19: Barbecues and street fairs, gospel concerts and prayer services take place across the nation today in celebration of the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States: Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day.

NEWS: Last year, the U.S. Senate established the 19th of June as Juneteenth Independence Day. Juneteenth is now an official observance in 43 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

June doesn’t mark the Emancipation Proclamation itself; instead, this holiday recalls the date, more than two years later, when slaves in Texas were finally freed and former Confederates were forced to recognize the Proclamation.

Though slaves had been freed more than two years earlier under President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in the deep South had felt minimum impact.With the surrender of General Lee in April 1865, Northern forces were now strong enough to overcome resistance in the South. On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops reached Galveston, Texas, to enforce emancipation. And on June 19, Granger read aloud the contents of “General Order No.3.” The Order read, in part:

Group of African American men and women in formal dress, black-and-white photo

Juneteenth celebration in Austin, Texas, on June 19, 1900. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with the Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

In reaction to the news, men and women who had been enslaved danced in the streets. Some immediately left their former masters in search of freedom or to find family members. The next year, freedmen organized the first annual “Juneteenth” celebrations in Texas, using public parks, church grounds and newly purchased land for the jubilant parties.

Did you know? Juneteenth celebrations declined in the early 20th century, but came back into favor during the Civil Rights movement. In 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas.

Many of the largest Juneteenth celebrations today can still be found in Texas (though not far behind are those in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis, Minnesota). The most established Emancipation parks—bought by some of the first freed slaves of the South, specifically for large June 19 gatherings—are still thriving today.

Did you know? Juneteenth is a linguistic portmanteau, meaning that it is a blend of words. It fuses “June” and “Nineteenth.”

Major institutions such as the Smithsonian and Henry Ford Museum have begun sponsoring Juneteenth activities, and in many areas, portions of General Order Number 3 are read. Juneteenth has, from its beginnings, focused on education and self-improvement, and celebrations often include public readings of the writings of noted African-American writers and singing.

Barbecued chicken on the barbecue

Photo by thebittenword.com, courtesy of Flickr

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Looking for more?

Learn the history of Juneteenth from the Library of Congress and PBS.

Recipes fit for the day are at Betty Crocker and American Food Roots.

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.