History of the Junteenth Celebration

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The History of the Juneteenth Celebration

1976 Juneteenth Parade, Houston. Photo by Benny Joseph.
Documentary Arts, Inc., and University of Toledo)

Perhaps the three most significant documents in U.S. history that exemplify America's passion for freedom are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Emancipation Proclamation. Although each has maintained its rightful place in the annals of American history, only the Bill of Rights and the Constitution have identifiable dates and cultural festivities. Each year, America celebrates the Fourth of July, Constitution Day and Flag Day, all of which have developed into an expression and ceremony of appreciation by the American People with special events emphasizing the historical importance of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The Emancipation Proclamation, which is particularly significant to African Americans, has not until recently received its rightful day of national appreciation. With the resurgence of the African American community's celebration of Juneteenth, America is growing in its awareness and appreciation of this highly meaningful document.

The celebration of Juneteenth is not only a show-
case event of the African American community's positive contributions to the American way of life, but it also makes a statement for all Americans that the United States is truly the "Land of the Free." Juneteenth is an expression and extension of American freedom and, like the Fourth of July, a time for all Americans to celebrate our independence, human rights, civil rights and freedom.

Juneteenth began in the great state of Texas when Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army led his troops into the city of Galveston. There, on June 19, 1865, he officially proclaimed freedom for slaves in that state. Granger's ride through Galveston culminated a two-and-a-half year trek through America's deep south. But many states, parishes and counties had been excluded from learning of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, leaving millions of African American slaves without their freedom. Thus it was that on this date the African American slaves of Texas and other parts of the South celebrated the final execution of the Emancipation Proclamation, giving them their freedom forever.

The former slaves of Galveston were quick to establish what was to become a tradition for African American communities across the United States. One the evening of June 19, 1865, thousands flooded the streets of Galveston, rejoicing in their newly-announced freedom The sweet smell of barbecue smoke filled the air. Dancing feet pounded the dirt roads and harmonic voices sung spirituals. This was the day, Juneteenth, that would forever commemorate African American Freedom.

In the immediate years to follow, Galveston and other Southern cities began to structure Juneteenth activities. Not only was there food, dance and song, but Juneteenth provided the opportunity to express to young and old alike the fact that African Americans are a proud people with past, present and future contributions to American society. Religions organizations were hosts to revivals. Civic, political, business and social organizations distributed information and established educational and recreational competitions. At the beginning of the every Juneteenth celebration, there was a dramatic rendering of that most important of documents--the Emancipation Proclamation.

As African Americans from Texas and other parts of the South began to migrate to the North, East and West, they took with them the tradition of Juneteenth, spreading the word that African American Freedom has roots in the celebration of Juneteenth. Although for years Juneteenth continued to exist predominately as a local and neighborhood festival, today it is emerging as a major expression of African American culture. Like Cinco de Mayo, Saint Patrick's Day and Chinese New Year, the celebration of Juneteenth acknowledges the price, history, culture and freedom of an important part of American society and helps to unify the nation as a whole.

By Reginald D. Greene, 1987


Reproduced from the 1997 Berkeley Juneteenth Festival Program with permission from the Berkeley Juneteenth Association, Inc.

Go to the Juneteenth Bibliography page for a description of books on the Juneteenth Celebration

The Emancipation Proclamation

was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862, immediately following the Union victory at Antietam, and took effect January 1, 1863.

Whereas on the 22d day of September, A.D. 1862, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing among other things, the following, to wit:

"That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for actual freedom.

"That such executives will on the 1st day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State or the people thereof shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such States shall have participated shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof are not then in rebellion against the United States."

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, and in accordance with my purpose so to do, publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days from the first day above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof, respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebone, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the city of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia (except the forty-eight counties designated as Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed services of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God."

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Jefferson Davis Approves the Surrender of the Confederacy 

Letter of April 24, 1865, delivered by General J. E. Johnston, Greensboro, North Carolina

The Secretary of War has delivered to me the copy you handed to him of the basis of an agreement between yourself and General Sherman. Your action is approved. You will so inform Genl. Sherman; and if the like authority be given by the government of the United States to complete the arrangement, you will proceed on the basis adopted. Further instructions will be given as to the details of negotiation and the methods of executing the terms of agreement when notified by you of the readiness on the part of the Genl. Commanding U. S. forces to proceed with the arrangement.

Major General Gordon Granger's General Order Number 3

Issued June 19, 1865 from the balcony of Ashton Villa, Galveston, Texas.

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. The freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts, and that they will not be supported in idleness, either there or elsewhere.

Texas Freedmen's Bureau Established

The federal government established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands on March 3, 1865.

General Edgar M. Gregory became the assistant commissioner for the Texas Freedmen's Bureau in September 1865. According to Patricia Smith Prather, "The broad role of the bureau was to supervise contracts between freedmen and their employers, establish schools, furnish rations and medical services, and manage confiscated or abandoned lands--leasing and selling some to freedmen."

The Clayton Library of Houston has acquired the Texas Freedmen's Bureau papers. 

13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Ratified December 6, 1865.

Section 1

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 

Proclamation of Texas Governor J. V. Allred

Making June 20, 1938 "Emancipation Day," issued May 25, 1938.


    Whereas, the Negroes in the State of Texas observe June 19 as the official day for the celebration of Emancipation from slavery; and

    Whereas, June 19, 1865, was the date when General Robert* S. Granger, who had command of the Military District of Texas, issued a proclamation notifying the Negroes of Texas that they were free; and

    Whereas, since that time, Texas Negroes have observed this day with suitable holiday ceremony, except during such years when the day comes on a Sunday; when the governor of the State is asked to proclaim the following day as the holiday for State observance by Negroes; and

    Whereas, June 19, 1938, this year falls on Sunday;

    NOW THEREFORE, I, JAMES V. ALLRED, Governor of the State of Texas, do set aside and proclaim the day of June 20, 1938, as the date for observance of


in Texas, and do urge all members of the Negro race in Texas to observe the day in a manner appropriate to its importance to them.

    IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto signed my name officially and caused the Seal of State to be impressed hereon at Austin, this 25th day of May, A. D. 1938.

    J. V. Allred
    Governor of Texas

*Governor Allred mistakenly attributed Robert as General Gordon Granger's first name.

Texas House Resolution 23 Recognizing Juneteenth as a Holiday

62nd Texas Legislature, 1972, sponsored by Curtis Graves (Houston) and Wesley Zan Homes (Dallas).

    Whereas, On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger, representing the United States Government, landed at Galveston and issued a general order from the President of the United States and declared that all slaves were free; and

    Whereas, On June 19, 1865, Black people in Texas rejoiced in joining fellow Blacks across the nation who were freed January 1, 1865; and

    Whereas, From that day, which is fully six and one-half months after the Emancipation Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln came into force, Black people in Texas were recognized to be an integral part of our state's social, political, and economic structure; and

    Whereas, The Black people in the State of Texas continue to make increasing contributions of the development and culture of the State of Texas; and

    Whereas, Blacks serve in many high offices and capacities in Texas, including the State Legislature, where they have made distinctive contributions to the legislative process and in the service of all their constituency; now, therefore, be it

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives of the 62nd Legislature, Third Called Session, honor the Black people of Texas for their contributions to the state; and, be it further

    Resolved, That the House of Representatives recognize "Juneteenth" as an annual holiday of significance to all Texans, and, particularly, to the Blacks of Texas, for whom this date symbolizes freedom from slavery.

Emancipation Day (Juneteenth) Celebrated as a State of Texas Holiday

Signed by Governor William Clements June 7, 1979; effective January 1, 1980. Submitted by Representative Al Edwards (Houston,) and sponsored by Senator Chet Brooks (Pasadena.)

House Bill 1016, 66th Legislature Regular Session, Chapter 481, makes June 19 a state holiday in honor of the emancipation of the slaves in Texas in 1865. June 3, in honor of Jefferson Davis' birthday, was dropped as a state holiday. Robert E. Lee's birthday now is celebrated on January 19 as "Confederate Heroes Day."


    relating to a declaration of Emancipation Day in Texas as a legal holiday


    SECTION 1. Article 4591, Revised Civil Statutes of Texas, 1925, as amended, is amended to read as follows:

    Art. 4591. ENUMERATION. The first day of January, the 19th day of January, the third Monday in February, the second day of March, the 21st day of April, the last Monday in May, the 19th day of June, the fourth day of July, the 27th day of August, the first Monday in September, the second Monday in October, the 11th day of November, the fourth Thursday in November, and the 25th day of December, of each year, and every day on which an election is held throughout the state, are declared legal holidays, on which all public offices of the state may be closed and shall be considered and treated as Sunday for all purposes regarding the presenting for the payment or acceptance and of protesting for and giving notice of the dishonor of bills of exchange, bank checks and promissory notes placed by law upon the footing of bills of exchange. The nineteenth day of January shall be known as "Confederate Heroes Day" in honor of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and other Confederate heroes. The 19th day of June is designated "Emancipation Day in Texas" in honor of the emancipation of the slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865.

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