On January 1st, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the enslaved people in the states currently engaged in rebellion against the Union. This paved the way for the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which abolished slavery in our nation on December 6, 1865.
Following the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery continued to remain deeply entrenched in the South. As the Union army advanced into the South, the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced . On June 19th, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and freed all remaining enslaved people in the state of Texas.
In 1866, formerly enslaved Texans began celebrating this historic day. Observance of June 19th — quickly shortened to “Juneteenth” among celebrants — has traditionally featured food, fun, and a focus on self-improvement and education. As early as 1872, Juneteenth had become a firmly entrenched custom in Harris County, Texas. Although initially associated with Texas and other Southern states, the Civil Rights Era and the Poor People’s March to Washington D.C. in 1968, in addition to out-migration, helped spread the tradition across America.
On January 1st, 1980, Texas made Juneteenth an official holiday, becoming the first to grant it government recognition. Currently, 49 of the 50 states recognize Juneteenth. Texas, New York, Virginia, Washington, and Illinois have it as a paid holiday.
Juneteenth supporters continue to grow in number and diversity. Today, Juneteenth is promoted as a commemoration of African American freedom, and an example and encouragement of self-development and respect for all cultures.