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.1
Known as “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States,” June 19 (“Juneteenth”) has been celebrated around the country since its historical beginnings in 1865. Although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery in designated states on January 1, 1863, emancipation did not occur in practice in Texas until June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of the Civil War and slavery. Although the proclamation didn’t free all slaves, it “spelled the end of bondage for any slaves who escaped to Union troops.”2 There are various traditions about the two-and-a-half-year delay in official emancipation, but most believe that the delay allowed plantation owners to yield one more crop.3
With newfound freedom, blacks across the country commemorated the occasion with festivities. Some of the first Juneteenth celebrations took place in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. They often included picnics, baseball, games, general socializing, and inspirational messages from speakers. Festivities in each city varied, following no set pattern, but the most common type featured a day-long affair beginning at 10:00 a.m. and ending at 1:00 p.m. the next day with suppers and dances. Juneteenth committees were responsible for fundraising and publicity were composed of “outstanding black citizens,” such as school principals and ministers. Juneteenth was even considered a quasi-holiday in some areas.4 Celebrations began to decline as the second wave of African Americans moved to northern states during the 1930s and 1940s. However they resurged during the Civil Rights Movement as blacks connected their demands for full citizenship with their enslaved ancestors’ freedom struggle. Festivities still continue across the country, including in Mississippi.
For more information on national and international festivities, visit: http://www.juneteenth.com/welcome.htm
For more information on African American history, explore the Alfred H. Stone Collection at:
For more information on festivities in Mississippi, visit:
1 General Order Number 3, read by Major General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, accessed June 14, 2013, https://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ref/abouttx/juneteenth.html.
2 William L. Katz, A History of Multicultural America: The Civil War to the Last Frontier, 1850–1880s (Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1993), 30.
3 William H. Wiggins, Jr., “‘Free at Last!’”: A Study of Afro American Emancipation Day Celebrations” (PhD diss., Indiana University, 1974), 83.
4 Wiggins, “Free at Last!,” 98.