The celebration of Juneteenth originated in June 1865 with the freeing of the enslaved in Galveston, Texas; two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln declared all enslaved in the rebellious states would be free in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and shared the delayed news of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the end of the war. It is said that the Emancipation Proclamation was never heavily enforced in Texas, therefore prolonging the freedom of African American enslaved. By 1865, with the support of Granger and the Union army, the enslaved gained their freedom. Major General Granger’s first order of business after arriving in Texas was to read General Order Number 3, which read:
“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
Celebrating Juneteenth evolved from the celebration of freedom, to a celebration of survival. According to the National Registry of Juneteenth Organizations & Supporters, “The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members.” As time went on, the celebrations continued to grow with the participation of descendents of the enslaved, where descendents traveled, as did the traditions of Juneteenth. The commemorations suffered a slight decline in the early 1900s, but had a resurgence during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1980, Texas declared Juneteenth became a state holiday.
Today, Juneteenth celebrates freedom and focuses on education and achievement. The cultural traditions of the past can still be seen through the parades and celebrations of today. Looking for a celebration near you? The Heritage Area is home to several large commemorations. Take part in a Juneteenth event and be a part of history!
The Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City is also hosting a special day of programming to commemorate Juneteenth. Special events include a film screening for students, film discussion and essay contest. Stay for the evening Horace Peterson III lecture series by Hari Jones, the Assistant Director and Curator of the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation and Museum and one of the foremost authorities on the role of African Americans in the Civil War.
Continue the tradition and celebrate Juneteenth in the Heritage Area this month.