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.

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