June 19, 1865: The First Juneteenth Celebration

In June 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill passed by the House and Senate recognizing Juneteenth as a new federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Texas first learned they were free following the end of the American Civil War. The news came two-and-a-half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: June 17, 1988

When the war ended on April 9, 1865, Union troops made their way through the Confederate States, reclaiming them and announcing emancipation for the enslaved. Union General Gordon Granger was given command of the District of Texas, and in June 1865, he boarded a steamer at New Orleans bound for Galveston. He arrived on June 18, and his first order of business the following morning was to read aloud General Order Number 3. As Gen. Granger began, a crowd gathered in the streets, “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free….” The crowd erupted with cheers, and a spontaneous celebration spread across the city and state.

Austin American-Statesman – June 19, 1900

In the following years, June 19 marked that historic occasion, and Texas celebrated the date as Emancipation Day. It later came to be known as Juneteenth. Though first celebrated primarily in Texas, the celebration gained momentum and moved to other states. In 1872, on the seventh anniversary of Emancipation Day, some 2000 Black citizens from Columbus, Texas, formed a procession through the town for a Juneteenth celebration. By 1883, the crowd gathered in Corsicana, Texas, numbered more than 5,000. By 1900, Juneteenth had become an unofficial holiday in Texas.

During the mid-1900s, Juneteenth celebrations shifted from larger public celebrations to more informal private gatherings. A renewed interest in Juneteenth in the late 1970s led Texas to become the first state to recognize June 19 as an official state holiday. Following suit, in 1997, Congress passed a resolution officially recognizing Juneteenth. The fight to recognize Juneteenth on a national level culminated in 2021 when President Biden signed the bill declaring June 19 a federal holiday.

Juneteenth Celebration 1880

To see more historical newspaper clippings related to Juneteenth, try searching “Emancipation Day” and “Juneteenth” in our archives. Search Newspapers.com™ today! For additional newspaper clippings related to Juneteenth, see our Newspapers.com™ Topic Page here.

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64 thoughts on “June 19, 1865: The First Juneteenth Celebration

  1. You have a major flaw in the first paragraph of your article. Based on dates given, it wasn’t 2 1/2 YEARS, it was 2 1/2 MONTHS.

    1. The Emancipation Proclamation was actually issued Jan 1, 1863. But it was only acknowledged in the Union.

      1. It was acknowledged in the Union that it only freed slaves in rebellious states, and did not apply to slaves in the Union or in border states. It freed no one and actually didn’t even apply to states in the South that were already under union control.
        Something to celebrate would be the ratification of the 13th amendment in December.

        1. You are of course quite right, but Dec 6 is only three weeks before Christmas, and as previously noted it would be inconvenient to have two holidays in such quick succession.

      2. If you read the original post you’ll see that Juneteenth is described as 2 1/2 years after the emancipation proclamation was signed. It was signed in January 1863… 2 1/2 years before.

    2. Sorry, fact checked myself and it was 2 1/2 years. The way this event is presented it always makes it sound like Texas slaves weren’t freed until 2 1/2 years after all other slaves.

      1. Its easy to have misread comprehended that. Ive read through 3 articles for it to be clearly understood what happened when. 1863 – Civil war still happening. Emancipation Proclamation comes into affect Jan 1st. 1864 April 8 – 13th Amendment passed (through the House or Senate. Recall it must pass through House, Senate & Prez)
        1865 Civil War Ends. Union soldiers go to Galveston TX to announce freedom officially.
        So busy trying to make it sounds cute, sequential information is much constructive in this situation.

    3. I thought the same thing at first but realized Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 in the middle of the Civil War.

    4. That’s what I thought initially but if you look at the emancipation date, that was in 1863. The 2 1/2 months is from the war end day to the Juneteenth announcement date.

    5. There is no flaw. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Grainger read General Order # 3 June 19, 1865, two and one half years later.

    6. The date in 1865 was 2.5 years after the Emancipation Declaration of 1863.
      Mary’s comments are correct.

    7. It was 2.5 months after the end of the Civil War. 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Read paragraph one again.

    8. Sorry, Lisa… your history classes failed you. Mary, below, as well.
      The Emancipation Proclamation was “issued” in September, 1862. It was mostly “political”, in nature, and was primarily issued to dissuade both France and England from possibly joining the civil war on the side of the Southern States. It was also hoped, some believe, that it would create an uprising among slaves in the South.
      Legally, it had no “teeth” and border states, still in the Union, were not required to abide by it other than voluntarily until after the war was resolved. It was feared that, if mandatory, these border states might break away and join the Confederacy.
      In my opinion, this date should have been made a National holiday by Presidents Johnson or Grant at the conclusion of the war. However, it was unfortunately left up to a man who likely didn’t even know what he was signing.
      At least Texas got it right!

      1. Hi, Frank. While I appreciate your deep knowledge on this subject, it’s always helpful if you read the other comments. You would have seen that I immediately retracted my statement after realizing I had confused the signing of the proclamation with the end of the war. Every time I read about this subject it is presented in a similarly confusing manner, making it seem like slaves in Texas were kept bound for 2 -1/2 years after any other states.

  2. And of course slavery didn’t really end until December, when the 13th Amendment was ratified. ut I suppose that would be to near Christmas to be convenient for a holiday.

    1. True. The celebration is based on how people close to the event experienced things and I think that makes it more valid than a technical date. It organically evolved and is a rich tradition from the people.

      1. I really like your comment. “a rich tradition from the people.” Just wish it weren’t so hot this week beause I’d go out and celebrate!!!

    2. Regardless …… we should all be thankful to the Republicans for ending this horrible practice!

      1. I REALLY hope you’re not referring to the Republicans of today, as they are NOT the same Party…

      2. Shouldn’t you really be grateful to the *secessionists*?

        Had their Senators and Representatives not left Washington in 1861 the Republicans could have done little or nothing.

  3. Beyond the disrespect of failing to simply acknowledge who is meant by “they” (it wouldn’t have taken much more to say “ancestors of historically enslaved people of the U.S.” instead of “they”), there is the more overt but perhaps less obvious ignorance (using that word deliberately here) of suggesting that ‘”they” still “believe” that they are treated as slaves’ and then the more egregious phrase: “…are in some way still connected to it.” Observations such as these are mere opinions and are characteristic of people, especially in the population statistical majority, who will never, repeat never (the reason for my use of the word “ignorant”) be able to feel what we feel, understand what we understand about our family heritage, or experience the still persistent treatment in the U.S., at the hands of the historically privileged and preferred, what emotions come over us and our children when they first learn in school that people who look like them were treated in such a manner so many years ago. We are asked to “get over it” and “why do you still get angry when you hear/see/read about slavery and treatment of enslaved people”. That question and lack of understanding reflects the ignorance referenced earlier. It is ignorance, not as an insult, but ignorance as in “this didn’t happen to your grandmother’s grandmother, whose picture you have and whose name you know, but it happened to mine, and my grandmother knew her grandmother, who was an actual enslaved person. But we can only go so far back before the names become unknown because of the brutal separation of families that occurred”. That’s how still near it is historically, making it not something that just happened a long time ago that we should just “get over” but something that still stings at an ever-present soul level, something that still has remnants in modern society, and something that is a reflection of the effects of evil, which even in scripture is said to affect one’s children’s children and their children. Please don’t make the ignorant mistake of failing to identify just whom you are speaking of when you make statements involving the word “they” and you make suggestions demonstrating that you really don’t and never will understand. The sad part, which will be always unknown to those who speak that way, but will be, always, well known to those whose ancestors experienced this evil, is that such ignorance is veiled in darkness, but it is so obvious to those of us who see it clearly. It’s not something anyone can help or make you understand. Suffice it to simply say that care must be taken, and humility attempted, when engaging in conversation where it will be forever and irrevocably impossible for the ancestors of those to whom this did not happen to appreciate its permanent, lasting, legacy. We will always be still connected to it. That is not the same as constrained by it. Just connected.

    1. Dear David, et al,
      Ancestors of other persecuted people – i.e. Jews, Catholics, Christians, Irish, Polish, Italians, Asians, Puerto Ricans – are also educated about the horrors their ancestors experienced, but they don’t go around whining and blaming history for their pitfalls in life. In fact, they refuse to consider themselves victims. They use the knowledge of their history to stand taller and improve their lives.

      Legal immigrants from all corners of the world come to America, and in spite of the horrors they personally suffered and their ancestors suffered, within 5 years they own a business, a house, a car, and are sending their kids to college (big mistake IMO). They use the knowledge of their ancestors slavery and the enslavement they suffered in their birth country to empower themselves and future generations.

      I think Americans of African descent have much to learn from immigrants and new Americans about looking at the present and toward the future while learning of their past, but not dwelling upon the emotionality of it. My ancestors were brought to America to work the fields and God knows what else. They were known as indentured servants. They were enslaved until they paid off their debt of being brought to America – much the same as the human traffickers do today. I use this knowledge as a springboard to improve my life, not as a corral from which I cannot escape.

      Look at your peers, David. 46% of children born out of wedlock. God only knows how many millions have already been aborted. Drugs, prostitution, crime. No self-respect or respect for others. Stop blaming your ancestors’ past. Only YOU can stand up and walk taller. Only YOU can make the conscious decision to improve your life in spite of what has happened to you and/or your ancestors. Now, I don’t know your background and you don’t know mine, but I can vouch for my advice as I have lived it, and I have helped others improve their lives as well.

      God Bless you, David. I wish you the best. I hope you will take my advice to heart to stand tall and help others do the same.

    1. Ricky, it was just difficult to understand who was meant by “those people” in your comment. Contextually speaking, it does not at all seem to refer to all Americans, especially when coupled with the remainder of your comment about “they” are free and “they” are slaves, which never applied to all Americans, at that time or now. I hope you can understand “my” confusion. It doesn’t diminish one word of my comment.

  4. David, please forgive my ambiguity. I assumed ‘we’ knew about whom ‘we’ were writing. Indeed I am referring to historically enslaved poeple of the U.S. (in this context we are talking about poeple of ‘color’, to avoid any confusion) . My intention is not to offend you or anyone else in this dialogue. On the contrary, my point was to say exactly what I did, the meaning of which is that ‘we’ at some point have to get past the fact that we’re a mixture of races here. While this fact may be obvious (and quite acceptable) to some, it becomes monotonous and frankly irritating to be constantly reminded that because some of us are not related to ‘historically enslaved poeple’, we will never have the capacity to understand or discuss the subject of slavery and are therefore doomed to stand in some way for bigotry, racial insensitivity, and overall denial of the aweful history for which this day commemorates.

    1. I agree with you completely—I’m blonde, blue-eyed, born 73 years ago in Honolulu, HI, a melting pot of many races. My dad left us when I was an infant & I was raised a with sister & brother, in Texas. I was always grateful that my Mom never taught or allowed prejudice. I grew up in Houston before desegregation so the first black people I ever knew were across the dorm hall, Eunice & Sylvia. I’ve always been thankful for them, as well, because they could have come to college looking for trouble (probably rightfully so) but we hit it off right away. Over the years, some of my best friends at work have been African American. One young man at a Hospice where I worked is from Nigeria. He came to rent a room from me & has been adopted into our family. I’m still working, for the last 5 years, caring for the 9th baby in a precious African American family, where I feel very cherished & loved. The point I’m trying to make—I don’t have to be the same color as another to feel their pain. I feel our Citizens can NEVER do enough for Native Americans, who have been enslaved & treated horribly, right here, on lands they have inhabited for 1,000’s of
      years. We need to realize that we owe everyone we encounter a smile & a fair shake❤️‼️

    2. Aren’t we ALL, “people of color”, Joe?? I have yet to meet ANYONE who is/was “translucent”.

      1. …I couldnt agree more! But under the pretext of that conversation I was obliged to define the term “they” for clarity.

  5. Arlene, thank you. I am actually inspired by your comment, as if we are sitting and having a meaningful conversation. I take your points at face value and respect what you are saying. Actually I, too, have lived without the excuse of history. I’m glad when we mean all of us when we speak of America’s inhabitants and what we all can learn from one another’s pasts and struggles.

    I believe my initial reaction in commenting was responding to what felt like a sense of “why are we commemorating the end of slavery?”, which may not have been the intent of those commenters or not well expressed, perhaps. Something probably true of the inhabitants of most countries is that we look at societal problems through a lens of only the borders of our own nation and we miss the learning and perspective that comes from the larger picture of the ills of broader humanity. The effects of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade are seen in every nation and inhabited land parcel west and north of Africa and from the U. S. to South America. There is no place that was untouched by the horrendous separation of people from their homelands, treated as animals and property, and legally abused to produce wealth from the imperialistic entitlement of a whole class of society. It just so happens that in this country, the practice even found its way into our sacred U. S. Constitution. Then throughout many states even past emancipation, another hundred years of laws specifically hostile to generations of descendants.

    That civil rights laws were needed to codify equality says a lot. I dare say this is a very heavy blanket of history from under which it has been very difficult for many generations to emerge. An advantage of immigrants from European nations, even Northern Africa, is to become more readily assimilated into what has become known as the white race, which is mostly a political construct. When examining the lasting impact of the centuries’-long Trans-Atlantic slave trade, it becomes necessary to look much more broadly than the boarders of this country and to the impact that that very unfortunate period of human history has had throughout the Western Hemisphere. There is much more that can be said but is probably better left to books that can be read.

    1. I feel compelled to comment: I’m inspired and hopeful in reading these comments that we can actually engage in civil discourse as opposed to name-calling and blaming others. It’s refreshing to read educated and open-minded responses to differing ideas. In order to think through things clearly, we need other opinions and viewpoints in order to navigate into the nuance. We need civil debate to present opposing viewpoints and point out our blind spots. The ability to speak freely and civilly to one another is a rare sight these days; I hope that we all can show more of it.

  6. Speaking of the Civil War, I inherited letters from the Civil War from my grandfather. I have been trying to find a historian that is interested in interpreting them for me and maybe a museum to donate them to. I have watched a few shows and read a few articles. I know letters of the Civil war are a dime a dozen on Ebay, but these mark a date of a war. These also are signed by a general. They explain how they got captured. I am thinking one of you could point me in the right direction since you know a lot about the Civil War. I would like to get these in the right hands. Donate it to a museum. I just don’t know who to talk to. They are a missing piece of history.

    1. Perhaps you could contact American Battlefield Trust especially if letters speak of specific battles. They could align them with historic sites that are mentioned.

    2. Hello Megan–
      I am an Americanist historian, one of my subfields is Civil War. I teach at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. I am more than happy to transcribe and interpret the letters for you; please contact me at bheadle@uccs.edu.

    3. Call a local museum. Maybe they can point you in the right direction. They sound very interesting!

    4. Megan, what exactly do you mean by “interpreting” your letters? Were they not written in English? If not, in what language were they written?

      I have some diaries written by a cousin from Tennessee from ca. 1862-1865. Also, I own some “loyalty oaths” relatives were forced to sign after the conclusion of the war in order for THEIR rights to be restored.

      In grad school, I found similar letters and diaries written by other southern families… pre, during, and post civil war periods. These were found in the main library of Washington State University. Perhaps, by some of the many families who basically were, forced, to leave the South during the period of Reconstruction.

    5. How wonderful to have those letters!! You are kind to think about donating them but I do hope you make copies for yourself and to share with family members and I do hope you get help translating them! I have a shoebox full of letters my parents wrote to each other during WWII. My father was a fighter pilot and Marine Lt. and was killed when I was only 20 months old. I cherish these letters because it gives me a glimpse of who this awesome man was! Sorry, I’m getting off track!

      I am member of the DAR, Daughters of American Revolution and very very sorry to say my ancestors had slaves. I want to cry when I think about that and I hate to even tell people!

      Juneteenth is now a national holiday. We need to continue to raise awareness of all the Racial injustice that still exists and we need to act! We can all start by being kind to EVERYONE and show respect!

  7. Also, I’m guessing that the “newspaper clippings” are not actual photocopies bit reproductions made to look like originals. In 1900, the word “today” was most commonly spelled “to-day”. Sloppy.

    1. Actually, Nathan, they are clippings. You can click on the image and go right into the page.

  8. My 2 X great grandfather was serving with the 23rd Kentucky Volunteer Infantry (Federal) and may have been in or near Galveston, Texas at that time. He was discharged from active duty later in 1865 while in Galveston. He returned to Kentucky but later moved his family to Cooke County, Yexas.

  9. So it seems to me that Juneteenth became a Federal holiday to recognize the end of slavery yet the Holiday date reflects an announcement in Texas in 1865 that slaves have been free since when Lincoln signed the executive order that Emancipated slaves in the Confederacy effective Jan 1 1863.

    Perhaps the date the emancipation was conceived by Lincoln would have been more appropriate date for the holiday? That was several months before he signed the emancipation order. He told his cabinet earlier in 1862 that he was going to issue the executive order as soon as events of the war made it possible.

    1. My question is..if this was in Texas only why is it now a national holiday?

    2. Slaves were not truly “freed” upon the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Many misconceptions about that.

      1. Besides, Sam… Who would actually know on what date in history, it was, that Lincoln “conceived” the idea for the Emancipation Proclamation?? I doubt that it was solely written by him. I’m sure he had help from his advisers.

    3. Who would actually know on what date in history, it was, that Lincoln “conceived” the idea for the Emancipation Proclamation?? I doubt that it was solely written by him. I’m sure he had help from his advisers.

  10. And of course the EP did not come into effect until New Year’s Day 1863 which was a holiday already.

  11. Maryland, a border state that remained in the Union but had many southern sympathizers, adopted a new state constitution effective November 1, 1864, that emancipated all slaves in Maryland. It was the first emancipation of slaves by the people voting voluntarily. It barely squeaked by, but it did pass and became effective.

  12. There are many alternative dates and reasons for these dates in this thread. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Juneteenth caught on organically and bubbled up from the people. That fact makes it the day to celebrate as people directly involved developed it and it really caught on and stuck. That needs to suffice so that Monday the 20th of June 2022 needs to be celebrated. Why not? If we wagg around with nit pick details we will lose the essence of the celebration of one giant step in our journey towards a more perfect union.

    1. I agree… this should have been done immediately after the conclusion of the war. Instead, it was only in Texas.

  13. Being a person of some Sub Saharan ancestry I despise the term African American, I know my family history and have been researching it for 30 years and continue to do so, I am an 8th generation American, I was not born in Africa and neither were 7 generations before me, I am American first and foremost, those of you who are willing to accept whatever society want to label you by all means run with it, like you did with Octoroon, Quadroon, Colored, Black, Mulatto, Negro, Afro American, and now African American, if I missed any I do apologize, I’ve always taught my kids that you don’t allow society to label you as they wish, you know your ancestry and it is for you to tell society what you are, I’ve taught my kids to never disown any part of what they are, but always always know that you are an American first and foremost and no label precedes American and when you fill out the forms that give you a limited choice of your nationality then you write in your own, “ I am an American that identifies with more then one of the above nationalities” DNA has proven that millions of Americans that live their lives as White and have some Sub Saharan African ancestry, even members of the KKK, go un discussed in our country, they say that “Blacks” are not the largest minority in the US anymore, but do they take into consideration the millions of Americans that live their lives as white that have Sub Saharan African ancestry? The entire country of all races should recognize Juneteenth no matter what race you identify with, it symbolizes the end of the most heinous act of cruelty in the history of our country.

    1. Chuck, GREAT comments!! I also hate those forms where you have to check off your race!!!! I agree..we are Americans first!! PS. How wonderful that you’ve been so successful in your family research. I also enjoy genealogy but have not gone back 8 generations like you!

  14. I totally agree. My ancestors came from Europe but I have DNA from a large cross section of people and nations. I have had an analysis of my DNA done so I know better. The key is to celebrate the end of America’s great sin. Celebrations must acknowledge what happened and how we overcame it and to remind us of where we need to go for a more perfect union.

  15. I have very much enjoyed the comments on this article, which was also very informative. For the first time I have seen well written, well thought out comments from people who care about history.
    It is only a shame that Juneteenth does not mark the date that slavery ended in the entire world. Unfortunately, slavery continues to happen in this world, and it usually cares not for the color of someone’s skin or what part of the planet they were born. Hopefully, some day we can truly celebrate the end of one person owning another in this world.

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