Forever Free: Juneteenth Then And Now

June 19 is a special day in American history, particularly in the history of black Americans.  It is a day that is still recognized in many communities for its importance in the progress of the country, and its name sits in the history of celebration the same way Independence Day does across the nation.

Freedom Day

On June 19, 1865, the last group of enslaved people in the United States heard the recitation of the Emancipation Proclamation. In Galveston, Texas, several thousand black slaves were gathered to hear the proclamation, written by President Abraham Lincoln and carried throughout the Southern States by the Union Army, and told they were free. And had been for over two and a half years, as it had gone into effect on January 1, 1863. (With limited Union occupation prior to 1865, most Texan slaveowners had just...neglected to inform their slaves that they were no longer thus.) While January First was a nationwide day of celebration to former slaves and their children, June Nineteenth, coined Juneteenth, was a day of celebration as well, first in Galveston, then throughout Texas, where it would spread to the surrounding states and then across the country as The Great Migration pushed the children and grandchildren of former slaves into other parts of the country.

A Photo of several African Americans dressed up for a Juneteenth Celebration in 1900.
An Emancipation Day celebration in Texas, 1900. c/o Austin History Center, Austin Public Library
Photo of several hundred African Americans dressed up and parading down a city street for Juneteenth.
Emancipation Day celebration parade in Richmond, Virginia, in 1905. c/o Virginia Commonwealth University.

Read more:

Student Resources in Context

US History in Context

Official Juneteenth Site

Books About Juneteenth

Juneteenth

Juneteenth

Come Juneteenth

Juneteenth for Mazie

Celebremos Juneteenth!

All Different Now

 

Celebrations Across the Nation

Nowadays, Juneteenth is celebrated less politically, but no less joyfully. Different communities have different ways of celebrating, including parades, parties, church services, concerts, vigils, reenactments, and even public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation! Texas has made it an official state holiday, and other states have followed. There are even efforts to have it made a nationally recognized holiday. Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the first event, and there were even bigger celebrations than usual. There have been regular celebrations for the day in Tucson for nearly fifty years. Find a few familiar faces from Quincie Douglas Library at this year's celebration!

What are you doing this June nineteenth?

 

Note: The final link was changed to direct readers towards information about this year's event.