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Juneteenth stands for June 19.  It also stands for Emancipation Day, Freedom Day and Jun-Jun. It is the oldest African-American observance in the United States. This observance is to celebrate freedom from slavery, that spread across this country.

As we all know, it was slavery that was the main issue that lead up to the Civil War in 1861.  One year later, in 1862,  Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico territories passed laws abolishing slavery.  Then on September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation to the rebellious states who did not want to end slavery that if they didn't return to the Union by January 1, 1863, he would declare their slaves automatically "forever free."  The rebellious states who succeeded from the Union were: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Caroline,  Tennessee, North Carolina,  Texas, Arkansas and Virginia.  The declaration President Lincoln declared led to the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that the slaves in those 11 resistant states were free. Two years later, on January 31, 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery throughout the entire United States.


On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger (along with his federal troops) arrived in Galveston, Texas originally intending to force slave owners to release their slaves. Back in those days, they didn't have CNN to instantly give breaking news. So, even though the slaves in the southern states were declared free in 1863, word didn't reach the slaves until 1865.  It took two years for them to learn they were free!


There are several theories why this news took so long to get to the eastern part of Texas. Some blame it on mule travel. Others feel the original messenger got murdered.  But the most popular belief is that the news was purposely withheld by the wealthy landowners who wanted their slaves to bring in that one last crop.


Originally, June 19th observation of General Granger's arrival was only celebrated in Texas and Louisiana.  This is because General Granger left from New Orleans to go to Texas. Soon the celebration went to Arkansas. Then as the free Blacks migrated, they also took this celebration with them all over.


A second migration of blacks happened in the late 1930's and early 1940's from the southwestern states into California.  These new west coast settlers continued to observe Juneteenth.  But the observance became merely picnics sponsored by the African Americans from the same migrated state they came from.  An example is that every year on June 19, an "Oklahoma Picnic" is observed in Los Angeles' Lincoln Heights Park.  But the main message that got came about was the idea of a "homecoming."  The West Coast blacks that originally came from east Texas and the surrounding areas began to migrate home for a visit during the week of June 19th.  This practice is still common today.

But, the date of June 19th will vary  from state to state, as far as connecting it with a date that commemorates the Emancipation.  This is because it came about only after the defeat of a local Confederate force (per area or state).  For example, in cities of  New York City, and Boston, plus the states of Alabama, Georgia, North & South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Maryland Juneteenth is really observed on January 1st.  In Philadelphia it's observed on February 1st. In eastern Mississippi it's observed on May 8.  In Florida on May 20. In Ontario (Canada) on August 1. In northeastern Arkansas, North Central Tennessee, Central Oklahoma, Southeastern Missiouri and Southwestern Illinois on  August 4.  In Southwestern Kentucky on August 8. And,  in Indiana, the rest of Illinois and Ohio on September 22.  But,  East Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Southwestern Arkansas, Southern Oklahoma, and California continue to observe Juneteenth on June 19th.  

Although Juneteenth is political in it's origin, the celebration of it is spent just having fun.  There are often picnics, beauty pageants, parades, talent contests, baseball games and other sporting events.  Almost all events include singing and dancing.  This expression of happiness is to symbolize all the fun celebrations that took place years ago on New Year's Eve in 1862, when blacks awaited President Lincoln's official announcement that the slaves of the 11 southern states that seceded from the Union were free!

Return to our June Holidays Page for more celebrations.

Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. © 2003

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