The 150th Anniversary of Juneteenth

Today is the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth.

On June 19, 1965 Major General Gordon Granger, a Union soldier arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended and that all slaves were free. This was two years after the President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1963.

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863.

After General Granger arrived in Texas he read the General Order Number 3:

General_Order_Number_3

“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.”

There are various reasons why there was a delay in this information reaching the slaves in Texas.

Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

The phrase Juneteenth comes from the month of June plus the word nineteenth.

A wide range of activities were provided to help celebrate this annual tradition that started in Texas. According to many Juneteenth usually focused on education and self-improvement. Strawberry soda pop became a favorite drink amongst those who celebrated and people prepared different types of dishes including lamb, pork and beef.

Juneteenth3

Juneteenth2Juneteenth celebrations experienced a decline during economic hard times in the early part of the 19th century but saw a resurgence during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s.

In January 1, 1980 thanks to Texas Rep. Al Edwards of Houston, Juneteenth became an official state holiday.

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. Edwards has since actively sought to spread the observance of Juneteenth all across America.

As of June 1, 2014 Maryland became the 43rd state to recognize Juneteenth National Freedom Day. The bill was signed by former Governor Martin O’Malley.

(Annapolis, Maryland) – Maryland, the home state of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, is now the 43rd state to officially recognize Juneteenth Independence Day as a state holiday or state holiday observance. State Representative Melvin Stukes recently introduced HB 549, “An Act concerning State Government – Commemorative Days – Juneteenth National Freedom” requiring the Governor to “annually to proclaim a certain day as Juneteenth National Freedom Day” in Maryland.

“We especially thank Rep. Stukes for leading the effort for Juneteenth to be recognized in the home state of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass,” states Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D., Founder & Chairman of the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign and the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF). “Douglass, who gave the greatest oration ever spoken on the subject of enslavement, ‘What to the American Slave Is the 4th of July’, should be honored across America whenever Juneteenth is celebrated by the reading of this historic ground breaking speech.”

Seven states still do not recognize Juneteenth: Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.

You can find out more information about Juneteenth below at the following links:

Juneteenth.com

The Hidden History of Juneteenth

What is Juneteenth?

Independence Day

An Obscure Texas Celebration Makes Its Way Across the U.S.

12th Annual Juneteenth Celebration in St. Mary’s County, Maryland

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