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A Gulf Coast Juneteenth

Juneteenth in Houston

Emancipation Park was established in Houston's Third Ward as a site for freed slaves and their descendents to celebrate Juneteenth. LEARN MORE

Frederick Douglass
has been called "the father of the Civil Rights movement in the United States." LEARN MORE

The Emancipation Proclamation was effective by authority of President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. LEARN MORE

Smithsonian Magazine, in its May 2008 issue, recommends Houston's Juneteenth celebration as the Number 3 "Hotspot" in the nation in "Destination America."

History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom and commemoration of the abolition of slavery. It is observed in many of the same ways as the Fourth of July, with family get-togethers, cookouts and live music; but Juneteenth has even greater significance to the descendents of slaves.

In a speech given July 4, 1852 in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass asked, "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim."

The issue of slavery divided the young United States and on April 12, 1861 the Civil War erupted. On January 1, 1863, at the insistence of Frederick Douglass, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, decreeing freedom for slaves. With the Union victorious, the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865. Implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation was slow in former Confederate States.

On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger, with 2,000 Federal troops, arrived in Galveston, Texas, where he read General Order #3, "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free." (Proposed on January 31, 1865, before the end of the Civil War, and ratified December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permanently outlawed slavery.)

The order read by Granger on June 19, 1865 resulted in jubilant celebration by many African Americans and spread the following year throughout Texas and neighboring states.

Annual Juneteenth commemorations included first-hand storytelling, inspirational speakers, prayer services and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation. Former slaves purchased Emancipation Park in Houston's Third Ward in 1872 to honor their freedom.

Juneteenth activities waned during World War II and again through the struggle for Civil Rights, but returned to prominence in the 1970s and 80s. The 66th Texas legislature passed House Bill number 1016, declaring June 19, "Emancipation Day in Texas," a legal state holiday effective January 1, 1980. Today, Juneteenth is officially recognized in at least 26 states.

Juneteenth celebrations of Emancipation Day have been an important avenue for older generations to teach younger people about their struggles and victories since the remembrance began in 1866.

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