Texas Observes Juneteenth
Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, is the name given to Emancipation Day by African Americans in Texas. On that day in 1865 Union Major-General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 to the people of Galveston. It stated:
"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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
General Orders, No. 3. U.S. House, 54th Congress, 1st Session (H. Doc. 369, Part 2). “General Order Number 3,” 1896. U.S. Documents Collection. Y 1.1/2: SERIAL 3437
Large celebrations on June 19 began in 1866 and continued regularly into the early 20th century. African Americans treated this day like the Fourth of July, and the celebrations contained similar events. In the early days, Juneteenth celebrations included a prayer service, speakers with inspirational messages, reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, stories from former slaves, food, red soda water, games, rodeos, and dances.
The celebration of June 19 as Emancipation Day spread from Texas to the neighboring states of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. It also appeared in Alabama, Florida, and California as African American Texans migrated.
In many parts of Texas, freedmen and women purchased land, or "emancipation grounds," for Juneteenth gatherings. Examples include: Emancipation Park in Houston, purchased in 1872; what is now Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia; and Emancipation Park in Austin.
Celebration of Juneteenth declined during World War II but returned in 1950 at the Texas State Fair Grounds in Dallas. Interest and participation fell away during the late 1950s and 1960s as attention focused on expansion of freedom for African Americans. In the 1970s Juneteenth revived in some communities. For example, in Austin the Juneteenth celebration returned in 1976 after a 25-year hiatus. Texas House Bill 1016 passed in the 66th Legislature, Regular Session, declared June 19, "Emancipation Day in Texas," a legal state holiday effective starting in 1980. Since that time, the celebration of Juneteenth continues across the state of Texas with parades, picnics, and dancing. Find out more at the Juneteenth article in the Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association.
On Thursday, June 17, 2021, after unanimous passage in the United States Senate and subsequent passage in the House, President Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Many states, including Texas, have long recognized Juneteenth, but only some observe it as an official holiday. This bill makes Juneteenth a national holiday.
Find more resources in our collections pertaining to Juneteenth by searching our catalog or visit Archives and Manuscripts to learn more about our archival materials.
Other Areas of Interest:
First Push for African American Rights: Texans Struggle for Freedom and Equality
Forever Free: Nineteenth Century African American Legislators and Constitutional Convention Delegates of Texas
Juneteenth article in the Handbook of Texas from the Texas State Historical Association
In Recognition of Texans Who Worked for Equality
Resources Available Include:
U.S. House, 54th Congress, 1st Session (H. Doc. 369, Part 2). “General Order Number 3,” 1896. U.S. Documents Collection. Y 1.1/2: SERIAL 3437. General Orders 3_Juneteenth (PDF)
Let’s Pretend: Mae Dee and Her Family Join the Juneteenth Celebration, 1978. Ada DeBlanc Simond. Main collection. 976.431 SI56J.
Juneteenth at Comanche Crossing, 1983. Doris Hollis Pemberton. Main Collection. 976.400496073 P369J.
Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African-American Folklore, 1996. Francis Edward Abernathy. Texas Documents Collection. Z N745.7 T312f No.54.
Juneteenth!: Celebrating Freedom in Texas, 1999. Anna Pearl Barrett. Main Collection. 394.263 B275j.
Texas Monthly, “Texas Primer: Juneteenth,” 1988. Chester Rosson. Main Collection. 976.4005 T312mo V.16 No.1-6.
Subject Vertical File, “Juneteenth Celebrations,” various dates. Main Collection. Vertical File Index.