Juneteenth, which is short for June Nineteenth, celebrates the day when United States federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to occupy the state and ensure that slaves were being freed following the Civil War. The event took place on June 19th in 1865, two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House to end the Civil War. It is often considered the longest-running African American holiday and honors the end of slavery in the United States.
Even after the Civil War had ended slavery was mostly unaffected in Texas against the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 that freed all the slaves in in the Confederacy. This was the case until General Gordon Granger entered Texas and read General Orders No.3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”.
Some consider this action to be the true beginning of the end of slavery in the United States as the Emancipation Proclamation did not uniformly end slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation was a military focused action that only freed the slaves currently living in the rebelling Confederate states and had no affect on the Union states that still used slaves. This action was to gain the support of local slaves to fight against the Confederacy but would go on to swing Lincoln’s stance on slavery and be a driving force to the end slavery.
While Texas did succeed and join the Confederacy, it was mostly unaffected by the war as no large-scale fighting or Union troop occupation was seen throughout the war. Many slavers found the state to be a haven for slavery and started to travel to the state from other areas. Even after General Granger’s arrival and orders, numerous slavers would continue to use slaves and hide their freedom until after the current harvest season.
In December of 1865, the 13th Amendment would pass, and slavery would officially end in the United States. In 1866, freed slavers in Texas would organize “Jubilee Day” on June 19th and it would become an annual celebration of freedom in the state. The event would be full of music, prayer, barbecues, and other community events to celebrate. In 1979, Texas would become the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday and several other states would follow over the years.
In 2021, the US Senate passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth National Independence Day as a national holiday, but as of writing this article it has yet to pass as a full law. To this day, many will still refer to the holiday as Jubilee Day, June Nineteenth, Emancipation Day, or even Freedom Day.