Celebrating Juneteenth

In 1980, Texas was the first to declare Juneteenth a state holiday. In 2021, in an ever-evolving celebration of common bonds of freedom, June 19 was named a federal holiday. 

June 19 is also Father’s Day this year and the national theme is recognition of the Founding Fathers of Freedom—the United States Colored Troops who marched into Galveston to announce freedom to those still enslaved. 

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, 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 hired laborer.  ~General Order #3


Juneteenth is a day that traditionally recognizes the end of slavery in the United States. While many believe Abraham Lincoln’s executive order, known as the Emancipation Proclamation, ‘freed the slaves,’ his 1863 order was just the first step. 

President Lincoln signed the document on September 22, 1862, and it became official January 1, 1863. It changed the legal status—from slave to free—of more than 3.5 million African Americans. However, the order was not recognized or enforced by states rebelling against the Union. All other enslaved people were legally freed by state actions and ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865. 

Meanwhile, in Texas…

Texas was geographically isolated from the significant battles of the Civil War and, without mass communication, slavery persisted even after the Confederacy surrendered in April 1865. Finally, on June 19, Major General Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union soldiers landed at Galveston. 

“Juneteenth” Begins

History says reactions among the new freedmen were mixed—from disbelief, to being gone before the general even finished his statement. Initially called “Jubilee Day” or “Emancipation Day,” celebrations emerged in Galveston in the years following General Granger’s proclamation and flourished year after year. As more families emigrated from Texas, they took the tradition with them and continued the celebration, first in border states, and eventually coast to coast. 

The day was first celebrated in Austin in 1867 and five years later, African-American leaders purchased land specifically designated for the annual event, now known as Emancipation Park. Celebrations across Texas continued to grow and by the 1890s, the name had commonly changed to Juneteenth. 

In 1979, Texas state legislator Al Edwards was the first to introduce a bill to make Juneteenth a legal holiday and the first state-approved celebration took place in 1980.  Prior to the 2021 federal designation, all but three states had passed legislation to officially recognize June 19, or the third Saturday in June, as an official holiday or observance.