Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in slaveholding lands.
On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and that African Americans were now free. Prior to Granger’s arrival, the Union military presence in Texas was too weak to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Now, two months after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in Virginia, Union forces were strong enough to act as liberating force for African Americans throughout the state.
Further, news of the proclamation was slow to reach Texas, did not reach some quarters at all and was hidden by slaveholders. One of Granger’s first acts was to announce freedom for African Americans, many who left Texas immediately for the North or to search for family in other slaveholding states. Even freedom seekers with no fixed destination left their place of bondage, if for no other reason than to grasp freedom for the first time.
The Juneteenth celebration grew during the years following the Civil War, with many formerly enslaved African American and their descendents making annual anniversary pilgrimages to Galveston.
In 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas.