ENTRY

Juneteenth

SUMMARY

Juneteenth, which combines the words June and nineteenth, is a holiday celebrated by many African Americans to commemorate the end of legal slavery in the United States. It has its origins in June 19, 1865, the day the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, learned they were free when General Gordon Granger arrived with 2,000 Union troops and issued General Order No. 3, proclaiming the end of slavery in Texas. The following year, African Americans in Galveston began holding annual emancipation celebrations to commemorate June 19th in which they gathered to pray, hear from orators, and share their history over various culinary offerings. By the 1870s, Juneteenth celebrations were being held in surrounding states and often included a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, parades, games, rodeos, and barbeques. In Virginia, the date of celebration marking the end of slavery, sometimes called Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, differed in various African American communities. As some of these historic commemorations faded in the second half of the twentieth century, Juneteenth, one of the oldest celebrations of the end of slavery, gained popularity with the increased interest in African American history and culture. In 1980, Texas became the first state to commemorate Juneteenth as an official holiday. On October 13, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in Virginia.

Origins of Juneteenth

Juneteenth, which combines the words June and nineteenth, is a holiday celebrated by many African Americans to commemorate the end of legal slavery in the United States. It has its origins in June 19, 1865, the day the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, learned they were free when Union general Gordon Granger arrived with 2,000 troops and issued General Order No. 3, proclaiming the end of slavery in Texas. The order declaring that “all slaves are free” was read by the troops at several locations throughout the city, including Union headquarters at the Osterman Building and the Negro Methodist Episcopal Church South, and published in newspapers throughout the state.

New Orleans Slave Market

  • Slave Auction
    Slave Auction

    An auctioneer holds his gavel aloft as three bidders compete for a boy who stands with his arms folded on an auction block. An enslaved woman dressed in a red-striped dress and turban stands behind the block, perhaps waiting her turn to be sold. This watercolor-and-ink drawing is from The Historic New Orleans Collection.

  • "Manifest of Slaves"

    This ship manifest dated March 1, 1860, lists the twenty-nine enslaved men, women, and children being shipped from La Salle, Texas, to New Orleans, Louisiana. Each person's name, sex, age, height (except for the young children), and color (described variously as copper, black, and yellow) are noted. The oldest person being shipped was Anderson, a fifty-year-old male who stood 5 feet 6 inches tall; the youngest was Patsey, second from the bottom, whose age is listed as 1/4—presumably indicating that she was three months old. The slave trader shipping these human beings was A. J. Chambers from New Braunfels, Texas, and the master of the ship, S.S. Texas, was named Wilson. Both men swore on this document that none of the enslaved had been imported from outside the country, since the international slave trade had been prohibited by law in the United States as of January 1, 1808. The internal slave trade, however, continued to thrive. This document was filed with the custom house official in La Salle and the ship arrived in New Orleans with its human cargo on March 5, 1860.

It had been ten weeks since Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, ending the American Civil War (1861-1865), but news of the Confederate defeat traveled slowly and unevenly. Enslaved individuals in Texas and the other states that seceded from the Union officially had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. But there was no enforcement of the proclamation in remote states like Texas with few Union troops. Granger’s announcement of the end of slavery was met with jubilation by the newly freed Black population of Galveston, which numbered approximately 1,500 at the time in what was the state’s largest city, a prosperous port that was home to the largest slave market west of New Orleans.

Celebrating the Juneteenth Holiday in Texas

  • Group Celebrating Juneteenth

    On June 19, 1900, a group of well-dressed men and women pose in a wooded section of Austin, Texas, to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday. This was one of several photographs taken that day by Grace Murray Stephenson.

  • Musicians at Juneteenth Celebration

    An American flag flies behind a group of Black musicians celebrating the Juneteenth holiday on June 19, 1900, in Austin, Texas. This was one of several photographs taken that day by Grace Murray Stephenson. The revelry took place in a wooded section of town, which is now Eastwoods Park.

    .

In 1866, African Americans in Galveston began holding an annual emancipation celebration to commemorate June 19th in which they gathered to pray, hear from orators, and share their history over various culinary offerings. By the 1870s, Juneteenth celebrations were being held in surrounding states and often included a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, parades, games, rodeos, and barbeques, which often featured red soda water in homage to the red drink that had marked special occasions in West Africa.

At the turn of the century, however, textbooks used in southern states offered a narrow rendering of history, including the history of slavery. The focus of freedom celebrations was the Fourth of July or January 1, 1863, the date the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. As a result, General Order No. 3 was not taught in schools, and Juneteenth did not become part of the national narrative.

Emancipation Day in Richmond

In Virginia, the date of celebration marking the end of slavery, sometimes called Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, differed in various African American communities. Virginia was home to at least a half-million enslaved people on the eve of the Civil War. When slavery ended, many formerly enslaved people moved about the country in search of family, carrying their traditions with them, and some Black Virginians adopted the Juneteenth holiday. Meanwhile, the African American community in Richmond celebrated emancipation on April 3, the date that Union troops liberated Richmond, with a large parade through the city. This tradition lasted until the early twentieth century. African Americans in Alexandria celebrated emancipation on April 7, the date in 1864 when the new state Constitution abolished slavery in Alexandria and other areas under Union control. In Norfolk, African Americans celebrated January 1 with an Emancipation Day parade, a tradition that began in 1863 and continued until at least 1944. African American communities in Loudoun County celebrated the end of slavery on September 22, the day President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Loudoun County Emancipation Association held an annual celebration until 1967 on “emancipation grounds” it purchased in 1910 in Purcellville.

Juneteenth Art

As some of these historic commemorations faded in the second half of the twentieth century, Juneteenth, one of the oldest celebrations of the end of slavery, gained popularity with the increased interest in African American history and culture. Juneteenth celebrations became popular throughout the country as a centralized date to celebrate Black emancipation. In 1980, Texas became the first state to commemorate Juneteenth as an official holiday. Today every state except South Dakota recognizes Juneteenth. On October 13, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation to codify Juneteenth as an official state holiday in Virginia.

MAP
TIMELINE
January 1, 1863

African Americans in Norfolk celebrate the abolishment of slavery with an Emancipation Day parade. This tradition continues until at least 1944.

January 1, 1863
Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring free all slaves in Confederate-controlled regions and authorizing the enlistment of Black men in the Union army.
September 22, 1863 — 1967

The African American community in Loudoun County begins its annual celebration of the end of slavery on the day President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The Loudoun County Emancipation Association holds this annual celebration until 1967 on “emancipation grounds” it purchased in 1910 in Purcellville.

April 7, 1864

African Americans in Alexandria celebrate emancipation when the new state Constitution abolishes slavery in Alexandria and other areas under Union control.

April 9, 1865
Confederate commander Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union commander Ulysses S. Grant, ending the American Civil War. Of the more than 6,000 men who had served in the Stonewall Brigade over the course of the war, only 210 are still in arms.
June 19, 1865

The enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, learn they are free when General Gordon Granger arrives with 2,000 Union troops and issues General Order No. 3, proclaiming the end of slavery in Texas.

April 3, 1866
Unofficial Black militia units march in an Emancipation Day parade in Richmond, celebrating the one-year anniversary of the city's fall to Union troops.
October 13, 2020

Governor Ralph Northam signs legislation to codify Juneteenth as an official state holiday in Virginia.

FURTHER READING
  • Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. “What Is Juneteenth?” The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. PBS. Originally posted on The Root. Retrieved September 20, 2020.
  • U.S. Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service. Juneteenth Fact Sheet, by Molly Higgins. R44865.
CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Lee, Lauranett L.. Juneteenth. (2021, June 08). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/juneteenth.
MLA Citation:
Lee, Lauranett L.. "Juneteenth" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (08 Jun. 2021). Web. 22 Jun. 2021
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