Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration honoring the end of slavery in the United States. In recent years, many companies and higher education institutions across the United States have declared Juneteenth a paid holiday.
On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger led thousands of federal troops to Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended, and slaves had been freed. Approximately 250,000 Texan slaves had no idea that their freedom had been secured by the government. Here are some facts about that historic moment, and what led up to it.
- You may recall Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — an executive order that meant immediate freedom for slaves throughout the nation. However, since the country was in the midst of the Civil War, those states that had seceded from the Union did not adhere to the Proclamation, and slaves in those states remained unfree.
- The Civil War ended in April of 1865. In June of that year, General Gordon Granger and his troops traveled to Galveston, Texas to announce “General Orders No. 3,” which stated: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
- Throughout the war, Texas was not as closely monitored as other battle states. For this reason, many slave owners went to Texas with their slaves. With its relatively negligible Union presence, slavery continued there for much longer. After the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, slaves in war-torn states often escaped behind Union lines or fought on the Union’s behalf.
- The slaves who got the news were jubilant to hear of their freedom on Juneteenth. Freedom did not come at the “snap of a finger” for everyone in Texas. Some people who should have been freed continued to work through the harvest season because their masters withheld this announcement to reap more work out of their slaves. This left many former slaves treated as though they were still in bondage.
- In 1980, “Emancipation Day in Texas” became a legal state holiday in recognition of Juneteenth, however, state offices do not completely close, as it is considered a "partial staffing holiday." Elsewhere, the holiday is also referred to as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day.
Many continue to celebrate Juneteenth 151 years later. Throughout the nation, people host cookouts, parades, and other gatherings in commemoration.
— Submitted by Andre Burton, J.D., vice president for human resources and diversity.