On June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas, Union Army General Gordon Granger read General Order Number 3 declaring, “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free” and “the connection (between former master and slave) becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
The enslaved African Americans in west Texas were the last to learn of their freedom as granted in the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier.
Celebrations of Juneteenth—also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day—began a year later in Texas and quickly spread to surrounding states. Commemorations waned during the Jim Crow era but resumed in the Civil Rights era of the1950s and 1960s. The number of celebrations, which have been increasing recently, often include calls and actions to end racism.
The District of Columbia and 47 states recognize Juneteenth, although few designate it as a legal holiday. Increasingly, businesses are closing on Juneteenth.
Over the years, celebrations have included parades, picnics, dancing, sporting events, music, plays, recounting of stories by former slaves, inspirational speeches, reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and prayer services. Churches have long been in the forefront of celebrating Juneteenth for a day, a week or the entire month.
In its origin, Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation more than 150 years ago for those who had been enslaved in the United States. The event, however, has become a day for all people to recommit ourselves to the work of antiracism.
The Rev. Kathy Noble retired as editorial manager with the leader communications team at United Methodist Communications. Media manager is Joe Iovino.
This is an edited version (June 2021) of a story that originally appeared on ResourceUMC.org.