Juneteenth is a celebration in the U.S. commemorating the freedom of slaves on June 19, 1865. Juneteenth was first celebrated in Galveston, Texas, where on that day in 1865 slaves were deemed free.
Maj. Gen Gordan Granger of the Union Army, issued Order No. 3, informing the people of Texas that all slaves in the United States were to be freed, also proclaiming the Union Army's authority over Texas. By this time Abraham Lincoln had died, the Confederate capitol in Richmond had fallen, and the 13th amendment to the US Constitution abolishing slavery was headed towards ratification. The Emancipation Proclamation had already ended slavery in 1862.
When Granger issued this order, slave owners in Texas did not release its 250,000 slaves immediately. Many decided to wait until government authorities arrived to enforce the order, rather than free their slaves. Others forced their slaves to continue working under threat of torture or death, as if nothing had changed and others waited until the next harvest.
There is no clear account of why it took so long for Texans to learn that slavery ended, but two years passed between the Emancipation Proclamation and the actual announcement that slavery ended. There are rumors that the original messenger carrier was murdered before he could send word of the news.
Despite the delay in freeing their slaves, the newly freed Texans and the Freedman's Bureau adopted June 19, as Juneteenth, beginning in 1866, in a grassroots effort to celebrate freedom.
As newly freed slaves began settling across other parts of the country during the Great Migration, the Juneteenth tradition began spreading around the U.S.
Is Juneteenth a National Holiday?
No, but today Juneteenth remains the most widely celebrated day commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. As of 2020, 47 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation acknowledging Juneteenth as a state holiday or day of observance.