Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day, is a holiday in the United States that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state ofTexas in 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African-American citizens throughout the United States. Celebrated on June 19, the term is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, and is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in most states.
The holiday is observed primarily in local celebrations. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing", and readings by African American writers such as Maya Angelou and Ralph Ellison. Celebrations sometimes take the form of parades, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, orMiss Juneteenth contests
During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863. Although it declared that slaves were to be freed in theConfederate States of America in rebellion against the federal government, it had minimal actual effect. Even after the ending of military hostilities, as a part of the former Confederacy, Texas did not act to comply with the Emancipation Proclamation.
On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived on the island of Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the emancipation of its slaves. On June 19, standing on the balcony of Galveston's Ashton Villa, Granger read the contents of "General Order No. 3":
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 at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year. Across many parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land specifically for their communities and increasingly large Juneteenth gatherings — including Houston's Emancipation Park, Mexia's Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.
Economic and cultural forces led to a decline in Juneteenth celebrations in the early 20th century. The Depression forced many blacks off farms and into the cities to find work. In these urban environments, employers were less eager to grant leaves to celebrate this date, and a rise in patriotism among African-American people steered more toward July 4 as Independence Day. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s focused the attention of African-American youth instead on the struggle for racial equality, but many also linked these struggles to the historical struggles of their ancestors.
Following the 1968 Poor People's March to Washington, D.C. called by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, many attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas where the day was not previously celebrated. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s it experienced growing interest from communities and organizations throughout the country, and in 1994 a group of community leaders gathered at Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana to work for greater national celebration of Juneteenth. Currently, organizations like the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation are working towards making Juneteenth a national day of observance.