What is Juneteenth?
A celebration of the announcement in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 that all Texas slaves were free.
What is the history of Juneteenth?
December 1860-May 1861: 11 slave states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia) decided to secede. The other slave states (Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware) stayed within the Union and were known as the border states. (1)
September 22, 1862: Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, “calling on the revolted states to return to their allegiance before the next year, otherwise their slaves would be declared free men. No state returned, and the threatened declaration was issued on January 1, 1863.” (2)
January 1, 1863: The Emancipation Proclamation took effect. However, it “didn’t free all the slaves, only those in the Confederate states in areas liberated by Union troops, and not those in the border states in which slavery remained legal…” (3)
April 9, 1865: Robert E. Lee surrendered “and, within a few weeks, serious organized resistance in other parts of the Confederacy collapsed.” (1)
What did this mean for Texas? First, there were about 250,000 slaves in Texas in 1865, a number that had more than doubled in three years. “Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach…more than 150,000 slaves [also] made the trek west…” (3)
Second, fighting continued despite the surrender, necessitating a Union presence. “[After Lee’s surrender] the Army of the Trans-Mississippi had held out until late May, and even with its formal surrender on June 2, a number of ex-rebels in the region took to bushwhacking and plunder.” (3)
June 19, 1865: the date Juneteenth refers to. After arriving in Galveston, Texas, the Union Army’s Major General Gordon Granger issued General Orders, Number 3, stating that all Texas slaves, in accordance with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, were free. (3)
Many resisted the freeing of slaves, however. “…On plantations, masters had to decide when and how to announce the news – or wait for a government agent to arrive – and it was not uncommon for them to delay the news until after the harvest. Even in Galveston city, the ex-Confederate mayor flouted the Army by forcing the freed people back to work…” (3)
December 6, 1865: the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery throughout the country. (4)
June 19, 1866: “the first official Juneteenth celebrations took place in Texas…Within a few years, African Americans in other states were celebrating the day as well, making it an annual tradition.” (5)
1980: “Emancipation Day in Texas” became a state holiday (6)
2021: President Biden proclaimed June 19 as Juneteenth Day of Observance (7)
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