What is Juneteenth? The history behind the oldest commemoration of the abolishment of slavery in the UScloseVideo
Juneteenth: A holiday Americans need to know about
On June 19, 1865, Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger marched his soldiers to Galveston, Texas to spread the word that slavery had ended in America.
The history behind Juneteeth – or June 19 – is much celebrated across the country, particularly among the black community, to commemorate the end of slavery. 2020 marks the 155th anniversary.
The date became a point of contention when the Trump administration announced recently that it would be holding a major campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on June 19. The announcement sparked a furor among Democrats and the president's critics for both the date and the location.
Tulsa was the site on a 1921 massacre of black residents and the destruction of black-owned businesses. On June 12, Trump announced he was moving the rally to June 20 "out of respect."
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Black Americans began to celebrate Juneteeth in honor of when Texas – the last rebel state – officially abolished slavery.
On June 19, 1865, Union Major Gen. Gordon Granger and his regiment rode into Galveston, Texas, with news the Civil War had ended and that the state's more than 250,000 enslaved people were now free.
General Gordon Granger, 1861. From an issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Almanac. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
It was more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – which went into effect on January 1, 1863 – and nearly six months after the 13th Amendment was passed by Congress officially abolishing the institution of slavery.
The state was the last in rebellion following the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation had little impact in the Lone Star State due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce it.
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However, following the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in April 1865, and the arrival of Granger’s regiment, the Union forces were strong enough to enforce Lincoln’s executive order.
“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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
The above order was issued by Granger on June 19, 1865, and it was met with a range of reactions from pure shock to immediate jubilation. That celebration has been coined “Juneteenth” and, for decades, freedmen and women and their descendants have annually commemorated the anniversary.
(The Portal to Texas History Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.)
The celebrations featured music, BBQs, prayer services, and other activities. They spread as blacks migrated from Texas to other parts of the country.
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Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond, Virginia in 1905 (VCU Libraries)
However, economic and cultural forces in the early 20th century provided a decline in Juneteenth celebrations (at least outside of Texas).
Meanwhile, in classrooms and history books, little or nothing was mentioned of Gen. Granger's order as Lincoln’s proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863 became the date signaling the end of slavery.
Juneteenth received a resurgence during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s – particularly after the Poor Peoples March to Washington, D.C., in 1968, which was cut short on Juneteenth of that year.
Members of the parade perform during the 48th Annual Juneteenth Day Festival on June 19, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty for VIBE)
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In the years that followed, interest in Juneteenth continued to grow as blacks in the United States sought to make sure the events of 1865 were not lost to history.
Chants for Antwon Rose Jr. fill the air on Fifth Avenue during Pittsburgh's Juneteenth Parade from Freedom Corner in the Hill District to Point State Park, Saturday, June 23, 2018. The parade served as an outlet for the crowd to protest East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld's fatal shooting of 17-year-old Antwon Rose, a Woodland Hills High School honors student. (Andrew Russell/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review via AP)
In 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday, through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African-American state legislator.
Miss Juneteenth 2015, Sean-Maree Swinger-Otey, 17, waves and joins in as neighbors and visitors line 23rd Ave. in Denver for the 6th annual Park Hill 4th of July Parade with more than 60 entries including the debut of the Park Hill Marching Band and a 16-foot tall replica of the Krishna temple. (The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Today nearly every state, and the District of Columbia, holds Juneteenth observances.
Click here to read more about Juneteenth.