Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
Commemorated annually on June 19th, Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Sep. 22, 1862, announced, “That on the 1st day of January. A.D. 1863, all person held as slaves within any state…in rebellion against the U.S. shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.” However, it would take the Civil War and passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to end the brutal institution of African American slavery.
After the Civil War ended in April 1865 most slaves in Texas were still unaware of their freedom. This began to change when Union troops arrived in Galveston. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, commanding officer, District of Texas, from his headquarters in the Osterman building (Strand and 22nd St.), read ‘General Order No. 3’ on June 19, 1865. The order stated “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.” With this notice, reconstruction era Texas began.
Freed African Americans observed “Emancipation Day,” as it was first known, as early as 1866 in Galveston. As community gatherings grew across Texas, celebrations included parades, prayer, singing and readings of the proclamation. In the mid-20th century, community celebrations gave way to more private commemorations. A re-emergence of public observance helped Juneteenth become a state holiday in 1979. Initially observed in Texas, this landmark event’s legacy is evident today by worldwide commemorations that celebrate freedom and the triumph of the human spirit.
The Juneteenth Flag was created by former NJOF Massachusetts Juneteenth State Director and Founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF), Ben Haith, in 1997. The flag underwent a revision in the year 2000 resulting in its’ present modern day design. In 2007, the phrase the “June 19, 1865” was added to the flag to place the historic date that Juneteenth occurred in Galveston, Texas