On This Day

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Associated Press
Abraham Lincoln

On this Day: Slaves in Texas Finally Liberated

June 19, 2008 12:00 PM
by Erin Harris
On June 19, 1865, two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, slaves in Texas learned of their freedom. The day is still celebrated as “Juneteenth.”

30-Second Summary

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Between 1863 and 1865, 250,000 African-American slaves in Texas remained under the control of their masters, while their comrades up North were already enjoying independence.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, to bring an end to slavery. It took another two and half years for Major Gordon Granger and his regiment to land in Galveston, Texas and declare, “The people of Texas are informed...all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”

Texas was also the last state to learn that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to the Union Army in April 1865, bringing a close to the Civil War.

Rejoicing in their newfound freedom, African-Americans in Texas dubbed the day “Juneteenth” and held gatherings similar to today’s Fourth of July celebrations. Ex-slaves constructed parks in Texas to honor their emancipation, and the Juneteenth tradition remained strong well into the 20th century.

Its popularity waned in the 1960s, during the civil rights movement, but was revived the following decade. June 19th was first recognized as a state holiday in 1980 when House Bill No. 1016, proposed by State Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston, was passed.

The holiday lives on today with annual picnics, parades, and dancing to commemorate the emancipation. The celebrations have spread beyond Texas to Alabama, Florida and California, and currently take place in fourteen states across the country.

Headline Link: ‘Late to Freedom’s Party, Texans Spread Word of Black Holiday’

Background: Galveston, Texas

Later Developments: Juneteenth in the 20th century; a memorial in decline

Analysis: To celebrate or to mourn?

Reference: Directory of local celebrations

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