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The History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth, which is short for “June Nineteenth,” became an official federal holiday in 2021. It commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States — June 19, 1865, the date when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. While President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (issued two years earlier, on January 1, 1863) had established that all enslaved people in Confederate states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” in reality, it did not instantly free enslaved people. As Northern troops advanced into the Confederate South, many enslaved people were able to escape to freedom behind Union lines. However, Texas remained a haven for enslavers because there was no significant presence of Union troops in the state. After the Civil War ended in 1865, General Gordon Granger’s arrival in Galveston that June finally brought freedom for Texas’s 250,000 enslaved people as he read General Orders No. 3 out loud, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” Once again, however, for many enslaved people, freedom didn’t happen overnight, and in some cases, enslavers actually withheld the news until after the harvest season. Still, as the news broke, celebrations began among Texas’ newly freed Black people, and Juneteenth was born. In December 1865, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment. The following year, recently freed Black people in Texas organized the first annual celebration of Jubilee Day on June 19th. The celebration grew to include music, barbecues, prayer services, and other activities. As Black people from Texas moved to other parts of the country, the tradition of celebrating Juneteenth spread. In 1979, Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth a holiday, and in June 2021, Juneteenth finally became a federal holiday and is now observed all across the United States each year on June 19th.

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