Shalom, everyone! The holiday of Juneteenth, Juneteenth Independence Day, or Freedom Day is observed each year in the African-American community on the 19th day of June on the Gregorian calendar. The holiday commemorates the June 19, 1865 announcement of the abolition of slavery in the state of Texas and the Confederate States of America. The word “Juneteenth” is the combination of the word “June” and “nineteenth,” the day on which the holiday is celebrated. Juneteenth is a state holiday in the state of Texas, and a special day of observance in forty-five other states.
United States President Abraham Lincoln issued the federal Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, effective January 1, 1863, which declared that all enslaved Africans in the United States, that is, Union States in the north, the Confederate States under Union-control, and the Confederate States in rebellion were to be freed effective on January 1, 1863. The United States of America was in the midst of the Civil War which threatened to split the country in two between the Union free states of the North and the Confederate slave-owning states of the South. The Confederate States refused to acknowledge the Emancipation Proclamation and continued their enslavement of Africans-Americans and their rebellion against the Union. Texas was a Confederate state, and one of the largest slave-owning states in the Confederacy. Because Texas was not yet a battleground for the Civil War, many slaveholders from other Confederate states fled to Texas taking their slaves with them.
The Confederate States, whose army was led by General Robert E. Lee, surrendered to the Union on April 9, 1865. News of the surrender, however, did not reach Texas until May 1865. The Confederate army in Texas, also known as the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, did not officially surrender to the Union‘s federal troops until June 2, 1865. On June 18, 1865, the Union Army, led by General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas. The next day, June 19, 1865, General Granger stood on the front balcony of Galveston‘s Ashton Villa and read aloud “General Order No. 3” which announced the immediate emancipation of all slaves in Texas as follows:
“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.”
Although June 19, 1865 marked the official end of slavery in the United States, African-Americans were and are still subjected to racial discrimination, violence, intimidation, oppression, and poor working conditions.
Celebrations of Juneteenth in the United States include religious services of thanksgiving, street fairs, parades, cookouts, family reunions, rodeos, and historic re-enactments of the announcement of “General Order No.r 3” on June 19, 1865. African-Americans across the United States spend the holiday remembering the struggles of their enslaved ancestors, those who lived during the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, and the continued struggle against racial discrimination and oppression.