Also found in: Dictionary, Wikipedia.


Juneteenth or Emancipation Day, June 19th, holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. It began in Texas when news of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (effective Jan. 1, 1863) finally reached Galveston on June 19, 1865. Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read a general order to the assembled people stating that “all slaves are free,” and Texas thus became the last state to learn of the Confederate surrender and the freeing of the slaves. The announcement sparked immediate celebration in the local black community, and the following year the date was again commemorated.

From then on June 19th, which was dubbed Juneteenth, was treated much like an African-American Fourth of July, and the holiday spread throughout Texas and into nearby states. Typical 19th-century Juneteenth activities included prayer, speeches, the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, recitation of slave stories, rodeos, dances, games, and plenty of food. The holiday spread when African-Americans from the South migrated to urban areas outside the region. Modern observances tend to emphasize food, drink, and recreation. A movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday has the official support of about half the states; it is a state holiday in 14 states.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


Date Observed: June 19
Location: Communities nationwide

Juneteenth marks the anniversary of June 19, 1865, the day that Texas slaves learned they were free. It is commemorated across the United States and is an official state holiday in Texas.

Historical Background

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, freed slaves in Confederate states and areas not under Union control, but the slaves in Texas were not told they were legally free for more than two years. They had no idea that emancipated slaves, as well as free blacks and white abolitionists, were celebrating freedom on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in 1863 (see also Emancipation Day and Watch Night). The Proclamation was not enforced in Texas because of the lack of Union soldiers. But on June 19, 1865, two months after the Civil War had ended, a regiment of Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and Major General Gordon Granger, representing the U.S. government, read from the President's General Order No. 3, which began:

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 free laborer. 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.

This order freed the remaining slaves in the United States - 250,000 of them - and thousands immediately began to celebrate. Many crowded courthouses to get licenses to legally marry. According to historical accounts, some newly freed slaves threw away their tattered clothing and dressed in clothes taken from their former owners. Many left the plantations and went to neighboring states to reunite with family members in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Creation of the Holiday

The first major Texas commemoration of June 19 was held in 1866 on the first anniversary of the state's emancipation day, which soon became known as Juneteenth. It also has been called the African-American Independence Day or Freedom Day (not to be confused with National Freedom Day, the anniversary of the 13th Amendment). At the state capital, the first Juneteenth celebration was held in 1867. The celebration spread to other states via African Americans who moved out of Texas and took their commemorative activities with them. During the 1960s, the emphasis on civil rights overshadowed Juneteenth celebrations. In fact, many African Americans did not want to be reminded of slavery and instead were actively involved in efforts to gain social and economic equality. As author Charles Taylor put it in the Madison (Wisconsin) Times, "while the painful side of slavery makes it difficult for many blacks to celebrate Juneteenth, it is the positive legacy of perseverance and cooperation that makes it impossible for others to ignore."

By the 1970s, African Americans in Texas were renewing interest in their heritage and ties with ancestors who were freed on June 19. People began campaigning for a state holiday and a bill was introduced in the Texas House of Representatives. The legislature passed an act in 1979 making Juneteenth a paid holiday, and the first official celebration was held in 1980.


During early observances of Juneteenth, some Texas officials forced African Americans to celebrate outside their city limits. But black organizations formed and raised funds to buy acres of land where celebrations could be held. These sites were commonly called Emancipation Parks.

Over the years, people have traveled for miles to attend Juneteenth celebrations. For example, more than 5,000 African Americans from across Texas congregate in Denton for its annual celebration, which includes a Ms. Juneteenth Pageant and gospel extravaganza. Festival goers from other states also make the pilgrimage to observe Juneteenth with family and friends in Texas.

Usually there is a thanksgiving service, which includes a group rendition of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing." Readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, and General Order No. 3 are common during observances. Celebrations consist of barbecues - centerpieces of most commemorations - in public parks, along with recalling family histories, playing or watching baseball games (a favorite activity), listening to political speeches, and taking part in numerous other activities.

Nationwide Observances

The celebration of Juneteenth spread across the United States over the years. By 2006, Juneteenth was recognized as an unpaid state holiday observance in Oklahoma, Florida, Delaware, Idaho, Alaska, Iowa, California, Wyoming, Missouri, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia. In Washington, D.C., the National Juneteenth Observance Commission sponsors an annual event in the capital. The commission, along with advocates across the country, have campaigned for a National Juneteenth Independence Day. Some members of the U.S. Congress have urged the president to issue a special proclamation for a national observance, but, as of 2006, the White House had not acknowledged such requests.

Even where there is no official recognition of Juneteenth, however, observances take place in diverse towns and cities. In Mississippi, for example, Natchez observes a Juneteenth celebration that draws hundreds of thousands of participants from the Mississippi-Louisiana area as well as from Texas, Alabama, and Tennessee. A libation ceremony to give thanks for African-American heritage is part of the observance; the theme in 2005 was "Remembering the Greatest Generation of Enslaved Foreparents." Other Mississippi celebrations occur in Tupelo, Jackson, Brookhaven, Meridian, and Hattisburg.

In 1991 Florida legislation recognized Juneteenth as a statewide observance, and cities such as Miami, Lakeland, and St. Petersburg hold Juneteenth festivals. In 1987 Jeanie Blue, a resident who had recently moved back to Florida from Texas, organized the first Juneteenth celebration in St. Petersburg. She had been inspired by the commemorations she observed in Texas. The St. Petersburg Juneteenth celebration includes live entertainment, storytelling, and health booths.

In Kansas, Kansas City and Witchita hold celebrations, but the largest and oldest Juneteenth observance in the state is in Topeka. The Stardusters Juneteenth has been hosting events since 1976, with activities conducted over a three-day period. Because attendance has grown over the years, the celebration in 2005 took place in Topeka's largest park, Gage Park, which is the site of a world-famous zoo, an amphitheater, rose gardens, swimming pool, baseball diamonds, and other features offered free for one day to Juneteenth participants.

Juneteenth is also observed annually on numerous college campuses. For example, Indiana University's Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center features a parade, musical performances, and a drama about the Underground Railroad.

Contacts and Web Sites

Denton Juneteenth Celebration Committee 1300 Wilson St. Denton, TX 76205 940-349-8575

"Juneteenth" Texas State Library & Archives Commission

"Juneteenth," an article in the Handbook of Texas Online, a project of The General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas State Historical Association

Juneteenth.com offers a database of celebrations in the U.S. and around the world P.O. Box 871750 New Orleans, LA 70187 504-245-7800 Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council 201 N. George Lee Ave. P.O. Box 269 Belzoni, MS 39038 662-247-1471; fax: 662-247-1384

National Juneteenth Observance Foundation 1100 15th St., N.W., Ste. #300 Washington, DC 20005 202-331-8864; fax: 202-331-8876

Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center Indiana University 275 N. Jordan Ave., Ste. A226 Bloomington, IN 47405 812-855-9271; fax: 812-855-9148

St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau 13805 58th St. N., Ste. 2-200 Clearwater, FL 33760 877-352-3224 or 727-464-7200

Stardusters Juneteenth Stardusters Crime Prevention, Inc. 917 S.E. 12 Topeka, KS 66607 785-233-5834

Further Reading

Abernethy, Francis Edward, ed. Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African American Folklore. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1996. Anyike, James C. African American Holidays: A Historical Research and Resource Guide to Cultural Celebrations . Chicago: Popular Truth, 1991. Pemberton, Doris Hollis. Juneteenth at Comanche Crossing. Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1983. Taylor, Charles A. Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom. Greensboro, NC: Open Hand Publishing, 2002. (young adult) ---. "The Black Church and Juneteenth." Madison (WI) Times Weekly Newspaper, June 17-23, 2005. Wiggins, William H., Jr. O Freedom! Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007


Type of Holiday: Historic
Date of Observation: June 19 and other dates
Where Celebrated: United States
Symbols and Customs: Celebrations
Related Holidays: Lincoln's Birthday


Juneteenth-an abbreviation for June 19-is the oldest African-American observance in the United States. Also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Jun-Jun, it is a celebration of freedom from slavery that began spontaneously and spread across the country.

Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates a significant historical event. Peoples throughout the world commemorate such significant events in their histories through holidays and festivals. Often, these are events that are important for an entire nation and become widely observed. The marking of such anniversaries serve not only to honor the values represented by the person or event commemorated, but also to strengthen and reinforce communal bonds of national, cultural, or ethnic identity. Victorious, joyful, and traumatic events are remembered through historic holidays. The commemorative expression reflects the original event through festive celebration or solemn ritual. Reenactments are common activities at historical holiday and festival gatherings, seeking to bring the past alive in the present.

Slavery was one of the major issues leading up to the Civil War in 1861. By 1862, laws abolishing slavery had been passed in the territories of Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, and New Mexico. On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation notifying the rebellious states that had seceded from the Union (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas, joined later by North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia, and Tennessee) that if they didn't return to the Union by January 1, 1863, he would declare their slaves "forever free." This led to the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that slaves in the eleven rebel states were free (see LINCOLN'S BIRTHDAY). Two years later, on January 31, 1865, Congress passed the thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the United States.

Even though slaves in the South were declared free in 1863, word didn't reach the slaves in Texas until June 19, 1865, the day General Gordon Granger and his federal troops arrived in Galveston with the intention of forcing slave owners to release their slaves. There are a number of theories as to why it took so long for the news of the Emancipation Proclamation to reach East Texas. Some people say that the news was delayed by mule travel, while others believe that the original messenger was murdered. The most popular explanation is that the news was deliberately withheld by wealthy landowners who wanted their slaves to bring in one last crop.

Juneteenth, the commemoration of General Granger's arrival, was originally celebrated not only in Texas but in Louisiana, perhaps because Granger left from New Orleans to begin his historic journey. Eventually the celebration spilled over into southwestern Arkansas. Then, as blacks began to migrate into the territory that was soon to become Oklahoma, they took their freedom festival with them.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, there was a second migration of blacks from the southwestern states to California. These West Coast settlers continued to observe Juneteenth, but the celebration had dwindled to picnics sponsored by African Americans from the same state. For example, an "Oklahoma picnic" is still held in Los Angeles' Lincoln Heights Park every year on June 19. But what really emerged following these migrations was the idea of "homecoming": West Coast blacks who originally came from east Texas and the surrounding area began to migrate back home for a visit on the weekend nearest the nineteenth-a practice that is still common today.

Juneteenth is observed on a number of different dates, due to the fact that enforcement of the slaves' liberation came about only after the defeat of local Confederate forces. It is observed on January 1 in New York City, Boston, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Maryland; on February 1 in Philadelphia; on May 8 in eastern Mississippi; on May 20 in Florida; on August 1 in Ontario (Canada); on August 4 in northeastern Arkansas, north central Tennessee, central Oklahoma, southeastern Missouri, and southwestern Illinois; on August 8 in southwestern Kentucky; and on September 22 in Indiana, the rest of Illinois, and Ohio. East Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, southwestern Arkansas, southern Oklahoma, and California continue to observe it on June 19 with festivities that include parades, picnics, singing and dancing, and baseball games.



Juneteenth is typically spent in celebration. Games, picnics, barbecues, beauty pageants, talent contests, and sporting events are common on this day. Almost every celebration includes dancing and singing, including the song "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing." These expressions of joy are symbolic of the celebrations that took place on NEW YEAR'S EVE in 1862, as blacks awaited President Lincoln's official announcement that the slaves in the eleven southern states that had seceded from the Union were free.


Anyike, James C. African American Holidays. Revised and Expanded ed. Chicago: Popular Truth Pub., 1997. Cohen, Hennig, and Tristram Potter Coffin. The Folklore of American Holidays. 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999. Dunkling, Leslie. A Dictionary of Days. New York: Facts on File, 1988. Gay, Kathlyn. African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2007. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Wiggins, William H. Jr. O Freedom! Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000.


Juneteenth.com World Wide Celebration www.juneteenth.com

"Juneteenth," Texas State Library & Archives Commission www.tsl.state.tx.us/ref/abouttx/juneteenth.html
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009


June 19
Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it wasn't until two years later that the word reached the slaves in Texas. General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, with the intention of forcing the slave owners there to release their slaves, and the day has been celebrated since that time in eastern Texas, Louisiana, southwestern Arkansas, Oklahoma, and other parts of the Deep South under the nickname "Juneteenth."
Observed primarily in African-American communities, Juneteenth festivities usually include parades, picnics, and baseball games. Although Juneteenth observances can be found as far west as California, many blacks who originally came from east Texas and surrounding areas choose to return home on the weekend nearest the 19th of June.
National Juneteenth Museum
2632 N. Charles St.
P.O. Box 7228
Baltimore, MD 21218
P.O. Box 871750
New Orleans, LA 70187
AAH-2007, p. 250
AnnivHol-2000, p. 102
BkHolWrld-1986, Jun 19
DictDays-1988, p. 36
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 261
HolSymbols-2009, p. 428
PatHols-2006, p. 109
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
"From reviving Juneteenth, to the Culture preserved at Her Museum, she was a trendsetter and icon in this City," said the NAACP.
According to The Washington Post , Davian Chester, 26, went to Google's homepage on June 19 and was surprised to see there was no doodle honouring Juneteenth, recognised as celebration of the end of slavery in the United States.
Appealing to students in grades 1 and up, "Let's Celebrate Emancipation Day & Juneteenth" is an excellent introduction to the history and repeal of slavery in the United States, with emphasis that much work remains to be done in continuing efforts to repair damage incurred by the long history of slavery.
A previous plan in place aimed to build a statue commemorating Juneteenth, but in 2012 - after more than $1 million was already spent on the project - the effort was scrapped after critics noted that the statue closely resembled a legislator who had helped pass the law authorizing its construction.
WORCESTER -- One thing became clear at the city's African-American Juneteenth Festival Saturday: It's never too warm outside for Jamaican jerk.
Outside the booth, Kilpatrick also hosted a show on WCNY-TV for around 10 years and founded the Syracuse-area Juneteenth celebrations, which commemorate the end of slavery.
We had several other objectives that included: (1) designing and preparing for a founding convention to be held in Chicago, Juneteenth weekend 1998, (2) holding continuations committee meetings around the country to build momentum, (3) writing a Black Freedom Agenda as the central vision of the black radicals.
Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery, commemorating June 19, 1865 when the union soldiers, led by General Granger came to Galveston Texas and announced that the war was over and the slaves were free.
Of course, Ellison's unfinished follow-up has since been published, not once but twice, first as Juneteenth (1999), edited by John H.
Topics discussed include the Lincoln-Obama nexus, Juneteenth and emancipation narratives, the politics of Confederate battle flags, and African American artists and representations of the war in the post-soul era.
Current exhibits, workshops, and presentations revolve around Juneteenth, an African-American holiday recognizing the abolition of slavery, and on "The New Jim Crow," a book by civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander.
Others are an editor's construction, like Thomas Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again" and Ralph Ellison's "Juneteenth," a drastically cut and highly criticized version of the manuscript Ellison worked on for 40 years after "Invisible Man." Vladimir Nabokov's "The Original of Laura," published in 2009, is based on note cards that the author had asked his family to get rid of.