Thursday, June 19, 2008

Celebrating Juneteenth, July 19

My grandmother, who grew up in Central Texas at the turn of the twentieth century, told me in a personal interview many years ago, that while she did not remember celebrating the 4th of July, she did remember celebrating another event on the 19th of June, with great hoorah, including fireworks. Although she did not know it by that name, the celebration she recalled is known as Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. While my family was not African American, their community included many former slaves, among them my family's nearest neighbors, whom my grandmother remembers most fondly. Texas is one of 29 states recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday . . . and Texas figures prominently in its beginning.

As noted on the web site, Juneteenth, the "19th of June", recognizes June 19, 1865, in Galveston, TX, when Union General Gordon Granger announced freedom for all slaves in the Southwest. This was the last major vestige of slavery in the United States following the end of the Civil War. This occurred more than two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln. Upon the reading of General Order #3 by General Granger, the former slaves celebrated jubilantly, establishing America's second Independence Day Celebration and the oldest African-American holiday observance.

For more on recognizing U. S. Emancipation, see Melissa Slate's article, "Celebrate Juneteenth," which also highlights additional resources.

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