If you’re not from Texas, then the celebration of Juneteenth might be new to you. Briefly, it’s about the actual emancipation of slaves at the very end of the Civil War, when there was a new military governor of Texas after the port of Galveston surrendered on June 2nd (which you can read about in American History I, Chapter 14: North and South Fight a Civil War). General Gordon Granger issued an order on June 19, 1865 that made it clear that the institution of slavery had been officially 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. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
Remember, the Emancipation Proclamation was very carefully worded to free slaves only in Confederate territory under Union control (you can read the text in American History I). Many slaves therefore did not know they were free until this order was proclaimed, and word of it percolated through the region. Since then, the day’s significance has been spread all over the United States. A great (long read) explanation of the day is What Is Juneteenth? by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
The image above is a photograph of an African-American band at the Emancipation Day celebration, June 19, 1900, held in “East Woods” on East 24th Street in Austin, Texas. For more information on the day, and how it has been celebrated since, check out these sites as well:
- http://juneteenth.com/ (includes suggestions for the classroom)
- Juneteenth at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission
- Juneteenth at the Handbook of Texas Online
- A Brief History of Juneteenth