The History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth is a portmanteau of the words “June” and “nineteenth”, which is the day that this holiday is celebrated. Also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the emancipation of slavery throughout the Confederate South after the Civil War, and more specifically the abolition of slavery in Texas which occurred on June 19, 1865.


Although President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863, there was still a lot of resistance from southern states. It became increasingly difficult for the small and depleted Union troops to enforce the order, and due to this the Emancipation Proclamation had little influence in the south. Texas was one of the last states that the Union visited to show that the war was over and the enslaved were now free. Although there are a number of stories that attempt to explain why the important news took over two years to be received, all we truly know is that conditions in Texas remained as if the Emancipation Proclamation hadn’t happened for some time.


It wasn’t until Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas with a large number of federal troops and took occupation there, that the federal government was able to inform them of the new order and take control of the rebellious state. While he was there, General Granger put into effect the contents of “General Order No. 3”, which announced the complete abolition of slavery. Although there continued to be struggles with adjustments after the change, those African Americans who were enslaved found ways to try and celebrate their new-found freedom. The following year they organized the first celebration of Juneteenth, which soon became an annual tradition.


Over the following years all the way until present day, Juneteenth celebrations continued to grow and evolve. What started out as a day of reassurance and prayer soon turned into a day to reflect and rejoice. Today Juneteenth continues to be a day to celebrate African American achievement and freedom, while also promoting constant growth and respect for all cultures.


As the number of cities and towns that are beginning to create Juneteenth committees continues to increase, so does the celebration of the holiday. For decades, these celebrations flourished until it noticed a decline before the Civil Rights Movement. Today committees are looking to have Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday of observance. The future of Juneteenth looks bright as major institutions such as the Smithsonian and the Henry Ford Museum amongst others have begun sponsoring events surrounding Juneteenth celebrations. This has even prompted a number of different local and even national organizations to be created in the name of this holiday.


Due to its spike in popularity over the years, by 2008 nearly half of the US states observed the holiday as a day of remembrance. As recently as 2016, legislation in Maryland officially recognized Juneteenth as a holiday, making it a total of 45 states that celebrate it officially. While the rest of the nation still waits for the approval of Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and South Dakota, Juneteenth will continue to be a rising holiday throughout the United States.


By Sally Greene