On June 19, 1865, enslaved African Americans in Texas were told they were free. A century and a half later, people across the U.S. continue to celebrate the day, which is now a federal holiday.
The History of Juneteenth
On January 1, 1863, enslaved and free African Americans got together in churches and private homes all across the country waiting for news that would declare everyone legally free from slavery. When the moment finally came, Union soldiers, many of whom were black, marched onto plantations and into cities in the south reading copies of the Emancipation Proclamation spreading the news of freedom in Confederate States due to the Thirteenth Amendment announced by Abraham Lincoln.
Unfortunately, not everyone in Confederate territory would be freed immediately, especially those living in Texas. While the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it was not able to be implemented in places that were still under Confederate control, and all enslaved people would not be free until much later. More than two years would pass before the news reached African Americans living in Texas.
Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by executive decree. When the state’s residents learned that slavery had been abolished, the former slaves immediately began to celebrate with prayer, feasting, song, and dance.This day came to be known as "Juneteenth," by the newly freed people in Texas.
Celebrating Juneteenth Today
In 1980, Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth as a holiday. All 50 states and the District of Columbia now recognize the day in some form. Because of its history, Galveston has remained a busy site for Juneteenth events over the years.
While some celebrations take place among families in backyards where food is an integral element, some cities like Galveston hold larger events, including parades and festivals with residents, local businesses, and more.