Happy Juneteenth! Since 1865, June 19th has served as another kind of Independence Day. It is a day that celebrates the end of slavery in America.
On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger informed former slaves in the area from the Gulf of Mexico to Galveston, Texas that they were free. Abraham Lincoln had officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but it had taken two more years of Union victories to end the war in April 1865 and for this news to reach enslaved people in remote sections of the country.
This is from General Granger’s Order 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. 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.
Many of the newly freed slaves in the territory, the last area to receive news of the war’s end and Emancipation, celebrated the news with ecstasy, and according to the Texas State Library, the words “June” and “nineteenth” became a new word and a new celebration of freedom. They called it Juneteenth.
In many parts of Texas, ex-slaves purchased land, or “emancipation grounds,” for the Juneteenth gathering. Examples include: Emancipation Park in Houston, purchased in 1872; what is now Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia; and Emancipation park in East Austin.
Other former slaves began to travel to other states in search of family members who had been separated from them by slave sales. Starting in 1866, that spontaneous celebration –more commonly called “Juneteenth”– spread to become a holiday celebrating emancipation in many parts of the United States, although it still lacks national recognition. Read more about Juneteenth in the article Juneteenth: Our Other Independence Day , which I wrote for Smithsonian.com