Today marks the 143th year anniversary of the oldest African American holiday observance in the United States – Juneteenth. The holiday commemorates the date in 1865 when the last group of enslaved Africans in the United States was freed.
History of Juneteenth"The People of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive office of the United States, all slaves are free . . ."
The first Juneteenth occurred on June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Texas and read the proclamation. This took place almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. It took some time for the word to spread throughout the city, but within a few short hours, word had spread, enslaved Africans dropped their tools of bondage and the first celebration of freedom began.
The festivities began on all levels. From Galveston to smaller towns in East Texas, celebrations began ranging from small thanksgiving prayer services to jubilant festive events. The city of Galveston was said to have resembled a northern city by the almost lack of black presence in the city itself. The city's former enslaved population was with family and loved ones savoring the first sweet moments of freedom with each other.
There have been many emancipation celebrations throughout the south, celebrated on various days in other states. The term Juneteenth itself was not coined until the 1920's. In other places in the south, the celebration is one where African American workers have actually been excused from work to celebrate the events. In Texas during the era of segregation, Juneteenth celebrants were actually allowed access to whites only amusement centers, until the inequity was pointed out to the city commission, that access should be year round, and not limited to one day.
On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition.
As of June 2011, 39 states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or state holiday observance.