Also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day in the United States, Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of some 250,000 enslaved people in Texas in 1865. In fact, slavery had ended in 1863 with an executive order called the Emancipation Proclamation that called for the immediate freedom of slaves throughout the country. Unfortunately, many enslaved people, especially those in the South, were still not free. The country was in the middle of a Civil War and states like Texas which had seceded from the Union did not adhere to the Proclamation.
Here are ten other facts you should know about Juneteenth:
1. Why it is called Juneteenth
Juneteenth is a combination of the month and date the holiday is observed, on June 19. Juneteenth is also the title of a novel by author Ralph Ellison.
2. Part of General Order No. 3 encouraged newly freed people to stay on plantations with their former owners and work for wages
After the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery continued in Texas until two and a half years later when Union General Gordon Granger and his soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, and made residents aware that slavery had been abolished. Granger performed a public reading of General Order Number 3, announcing that all slaves were free. However, General Order No. 3 also urged former slaves to stay with their former owners and work for wages. General Order Number 3, read by General Granger, said:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
3. The period after Juneteenth is known as the “scatter”
After Granger’s announcement, many enslaved men and women left the state to search for loved ones and family members or to start new lives in other regions.
4. Not all slaves were freed right after Granger’s announcement
Not every slave in Texas was freed after Granger’s announcement of emancipation. Some slaves still worked through the harvest season because their owners kept the news of their freedom from them in order to benefit from their labor. And in some areas, former slaves who tried to leave their former owners were beaten or lynched.
5. There is a Juneteenth Flag of Freedom
The flag, which is half red and half blue with a star in the middle, was created by activist Ben Haith in 1997 with the help of artist Lisa Jeanne Graf. The colors red, white, and blue symbolize that the enslaved men and women and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle represents Texas while the bursting star represents a new freedom and a new beginning for the formerly enslaved people who were freed in Galveston, Texas.
6. Strawberry soda pop is a popular drink associated with Juneteenth
Juneteenth comes with activities such as prayer and religious services, family gatherings, picnics, educational programs, and festivals with music and food, particularly the famous strawberry soda. In fact, food and drinks with red hues such as red velvet cake, barbecue and red punch are always available during the celebration. Since Juneteenth celebrations began, the food and beverages served during the ceremony have been red to symbolize the blood shed by slaves.
7. All states recognize Juneteenth
All 50 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or observance while about half of the states have made it a paid holiday. In other words, many states are yet to adopt Juneteenth as a paid public holiday two years after it was signed into law as a federal holiday.
8. Former slaves purchased land for Juneteenth celebrations
Four former slaves (Richard Allen, Richard Brock, Jack Yates, and Elias Dibble) raised $800 in 1872 to purchase a parcel of land for Juneteenth celebrations and they named it Emancipation Park. It is still the site of celebrations in Houston, Texas, today.
9. How Juneteenth was first celebrated
After Granger’s announcement, the first official Juneteenth celebrations took place on June 19, 1866, in Texas. Besides holding prayer meetings, reading the Emancipation Proclamation and singing spirituals, people wore new clothes to signify that they were free at last. They also celebrated with music and food, including the popular strawberry soda. In a few years, Black people in other states started celebrating the day as well, and it became an annual tradition.
10. Juneteenth celebrations died out for several years
Juneteenth celebrations nearly disappeared because of Jim Crow laws but the civil rights movement breathed new life into the occasion. In 1968, the Poor People’s March led by Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr. took place on June 19 — the same date as Juneteenth. This helped to revive Juneteenth as those who participated in the march went back to their home states with Juneteenth celebrations.