(also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day) commemorates the day in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger brought federal orders to Galveston, Texas declaring that all formerly enslaved people were now free.
Despite the fact that the Confederacy had been defeated and the Emancipation Proclamation passed two years prior in 1863, Texas was one of the most remote slave states with a low presence of Union troops, leading to a slow and inconsistent enforcement of the proclamation. By 1865 there were an estimated 250,000 people still enslaved in Texas.
The 13th amendment had been established earlier that year in December of 1865. This amendment formally banned slavery and indentured servitude in the United States except as 'punishment for a crime'. This key caveat allowed for the captivity of Black Americans to continue well past the technical abolition of slavery. During Reconstruction, restrictive laws referred to as "black codes" were designed by southern states to target free men and women and imprison them indefinitely for the most minor of offenses. These prisoners were then forced to labor for private parties in a system of penal colonies. This practice has been referred to by historians as "slavery by another name" and is the basis for our modern prison systems' use of unpaid or severely underpaid labor in everything from manufacturing to fighting wildfires.
The first Juneteenth celebration was held in Galveston Texas in 1866. Juneteenth celebrations continued to be held throughout the 19th Century, though due to segregation, African Americans were barred from gathering in public parks. This led to groups of Black Texans pooling resources to purchase plots of land to hold annual celebrations. Emancipation Park in Houston and Booker T. Washington Park in Limestone County were both established in the late 19th Century through this effort. Since the 1980s and 1990s, the holiday has been more widely celebrated among African-American communities, and has seen increasing mainstreaming in the US.
In 1991 there was an exhibition by the Anacostia Museum (part of the Smithsonian Institution) called “Juneteenth ’91, Freedom Revisited”.
In 1994, a group of community leaders gathered at Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans to work for greater national celebration of Juneteenth.
Nearly 100 years later, Juneteenth was officially recognized as a holiday by the state of Texas in 1980. Louisiana established Juneteenth as a state holiday in 2003.