There's more than one Independence Day in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced enslaved people were now free. Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth across the nation. Here's what you should know about the historic event and celebration.
Enslaved People Had Already Been Emancipated—They Just Didn’t Know It.
The June 19 announcement came more than two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. So technically, from the Union's perspective, the 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were already free—but none of them were aware of it, and no one was in a rush to inform them.
Texas Was the First State to Declare Juneteenth a State Holiday.
Texas deemed the holiday worthy of statewide recognition in 1980, becoming the first state to do so.
The Announcement Actually Urged Freedmen and Freedwomen to Stay With Their Former Owners.
General Order No. 3, as read by General Granger, said:
"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."
Juneteeth Is Still Not a Federal Holiday.
President Joe Biden signed legislation Thursday making Juneteenth a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S., with most U.S. government employees granted paid leave on Friday.“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments,” Biden said during a ceremony at the White House with Vice President Kamala Harris. “They embrace them.”
Though most states now officially recognize Juneteenth, it's still not a national holiday. As a senator, Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday, though it didn't pass then or while he was president. One supporter of the idea is 93-year-old Opal Lee—in 2016, when she was 90, Lee began walking from state to state to draw attention to the cause.
Juneteenth Traditions Vary Across the U.S.
As the tradition of Juneteenth spread across the U.S., different localities put different spins on celebrations. In Southern States, the holiday is traditionally celebrated with oral histories and readings, "red soda water" or strawberry soda, and barbecues. Some states serve up Marcus Garvey salad with red, green, and black beans, in honor of the black nationalist. Rodeos have become part of the tradition in the Southwest, while contests, concerts, and parades are a common theme across the country.