A Brief History of Juneteenth
Juneteenth, opens a new window celebrates June 19th, 1865, the day that news of freedom reached the last population of enslaved black people in Texas. The news arrived more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, when Major General Gordon Granger and Union soldiers arrived at Galveston, Texas to announce that the war had ended.
“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.” —General Orders, Number 3, opens a new window; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865.
Historians and professionals in African American Studies have found several accounts explaining the long-delayed news of the Emancipation Proclamation, such as murdered messengers aiming to deliver news of freedom and enslavers who purposefully withheld the news of emancipation from slavery to keep the people they enslaved working. Even after the announcement of the Generals Orders, freedom was still hard-won for the enslaved people of Texas, opens a new window, a population of more than 250,000. As stated by African American Studies Professor Anthony Greene, opens a new window, “It is noted that June 19th is not the exact day blacks were freed, rather it’s the day they were told they were free.”
The story of how Juneteenth came to be demonstrates its importance to American History. It commemorates the hard-fought struggle for freedom and celebrates black culture. Juneteenth is honored throughout the United States with parades, religious services, music, and food—and this year, with online events, opens a new window.
A Day to Celebrate and Explore
Interested in reading more? Here are a few Juneteenth stories to get you started:
A commemorative introduction to the Emancipation Proclamation provides excerpts from historical sources, reproductions of archival images, and lesser-known facts that challenge popular beliefs. Grades 5-9.
Discusses the origin and present-day celebration of Juneteenth, a holiday marking the day Texan slaves realized they were free.
Little Mazie wants the freedom to stay up late, but her father explains what freedom really means in the story of Juneteenth, and how her ancestors celebrated their true freedom.
In 1865, members of a family start their day as slaves, working in a Texas cotton field, and end it celebrating their freedom on what came to be known as Juneteenth.
Uses slave narratives, letters, diaries, military orders, and other documents to chronicle the various stages leading to the emancipation of slaves in the United States.
In 1870, Reconstruction brings big changes to the Louisiana sugar plantation where spunky ten-year-old Sugar has always lived, including her friendship with Billy, the son of her former master, and the arrival of workmen from China.
Cassandra and her family have moved to her parents' hometown in Texas, but it doesn't feel like home to Cassandra until she experiences Juneteenth, a Texas tradition celebrating the end of slavery. eBook from Overdrive.
What freedom looked like for black Americans in the Civil War era.
Frederick Douglass was born a slave and escaped to freedom in his twenties. My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) was written after he had established himself as a newspaper editor. In this book, Douglass expands upon his previous accounts of his years as a slave. With great psychological penetration, he probes the longterm and corrosive effects of slavery and comments upon his active resistance to the segregation he encounters in the North.
Shot on the Senate floor by a young black man, a dying racist senator summons an elderly black Baptist minister from Oklahoma to his side for a remarkable dialogue that reveals the deeply buried secrets of their shared past and the tragedy that reunites them.