Juneteenth originated as a celebration of the ending of slavery in Texas. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and 1,800 troops of the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that the Civil War had ended and all enslaved persons were free. Even though President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect on January 1, 1863, freeing all enslaved persons in those states in rebellion against the United States, for various reasons the decree had not yet taken effect in Texas.
The proclamation issued by General Granger—General Orders, Number 3—announced:
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. . . .
That evening, thousands of people in Galveston celebrated their freedom with dancing, singing, and feasting. In the years that followed, other Southern cities also began to organize Juneteenth festivities. It was not until January 1, 1980, however, that Juneteenth was designated an official state holiday in Texas. Through the efforts of African American state legislator Al Edwards, Juneteenth became the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition.
Today Juneteenth is celebrated not only in Texas, but in cities throughout the United States. Typical Juneteenth activities include picnics, parades, barbecues, ball games, and family reunions. It is also a time for people to recount the events of the past. Today Juneteenth has taken on a more national perspective, celebrating African American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures.