Juneteenth is an annual holiday that celebrates the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas on 19 June 1865.
Juneteenth is short for “June Nineteenth”. On 19 June 1865, Union General Granger arrived in Galveston with 1,800 federal troops. There, Granger read General Order Number 3 to the people of Texas that stated, “… 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.”
All 250,000 slaves in the state were free from this moment – though there were certainly cases of slave owners initially withholding the news from their slaves. Ultimately, many slaves left their former slave owners, though some chose to continue in the capacity of paid laborers. However the fundamental shift had occurred with all former slaves in Texas now being regarded fully equal with the rest of the state’s population before the law.
Juneteenth celebrations evolved quickly. They started with emotions of shock and joy amongst slaves on that first Juneteenth in 1985. Subsequent years saw gatherings of the African American community on the anniversary of their freedom. Such celebrations were resisted by some quarters of the white population, and participants were majority black for many years.
Juneteenth became an official texas state holiday in 1979. Today the significance of June 19 is celebrated in communities across the country. However, Texas continues to be the only state to officially recognise the celebration with a state holiday.