What is Juneteenth?

A Look into Our History

Posted Friday, June 19, 2020

On June 19, 2020, we recognize Juneteenth – the oldest, nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Cel-Liberation Day, it memorializes the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans of the confederate states.

Although then President Abraham Lincoln signed the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, proclaiming that all slaves free as of January 1, 1863, the executive order was not fully enforced in the confederate states due to the limited presence of Union troops. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army arrived in Galveston, TX to proclaim Order No. 3, which stated:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with the 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.”

The day was coined “Juneteenth” and over the years, it became a time for descendants of former slaves to gather and pray with family members and make an annual pilgrimage to Galveston, TX to remember their ancestors. In early celebrations, some gathered around rivers and creeks, read sermons and portions of the Emancipation Proclamation, sang spirituals and enjoyed food delicacies that had been passed down for generations. As time passed, families introduced new traditions, ranging from games of baseball to rodeos and later, stock car races and overhead flights.

On January 1, 1980, due to the efforts of African American state legislator Al Edwards, Juneteenth became an official holiday in Texas. Since that time, 44 other states have joined Texas in recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday or observance. Today, many individuals commemorate Juneteenth by celebrating African American freedom and achievements while encouraging continuous self-development. Cities nationwide host festivals and parades and barbecues are commonplace, serving red drinks and foods to symbolize resilience.

As we recognize Juneteenth in the wake of instances of racism and bias toward Black and Brown communities of color, we are reminded of the atrocities of slavery and the 400+ year struggle against racial inequality. While we have made important strides, we know there is much more work to do. We continue to stand firmly for diversity, inclusion, equity, empathy and against all forms of bias, discrimination, and hatred. We pledge to remain united in solidarity, knowing that all lives will not matter until Black Lives Matter.


Learn more: