Celebrating Juneteenth

Emancipation Proclamation. Lithograph by L. Lipman, Milwaukee, Wisc., Feb. 26, 1864. Prints and Photographs Division.

Emancipation Proclamation. Lithograph by L. Lipman, Milwaukee, Wisc., Feb. 26, 1864. Prints and Photographs Division.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

On June 19, 1865, Major Gen. Gordon Granger led Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and slavery was abolished – two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s edict had little impact on the people of Texas, since there were few Union troops around at the time to enforce it. But, with the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee in April 1865 and the arrival of Gen. Gordon Granger’s regiment in Galveston, troops were finally strong enough to enforce the executive order. Newly freed men rejoiced, originating the annual “Juneteenth” celebration, which commemorates the freeing of the slaves in Texas.

Although Juneteenth has been informally celebrated each year since 1865, it wasn’t until June 3, 1979, that Texas became the first state to proclaim Juneteenth an official state holiday.

The day of Jubelo. 1865. Prints and Photographs Division.

The day of Jubelo. 1865. Prints and Photographs Division.

So, why the two-and-a-half year delay? According to Juneteenth.com, some possible explanations include a murdered messenger, the deliberate withholding of news by plantation owners, and that federal troops actually waited so that slave owners could benefit from one last cotton harvest.

The Library’s “Voices from the Days of Slavery” presentation contains several interviews with former Texas slaves.

The Library’s collections are particularly wealthy in resources regarding African-American history and slavery, including photographs, documents and sound recordings. This web guide is a good place to start.

You can also read more about Juneteenth in this blog post.

 

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