“Juneteenth” is the common Texan’s parlance for June 19, 1865, the day that Union General Gordon Granger issued General Order #3, at Galveston, Texas, setting free all remaining African American bondsmen held in Texas. For many former bondsmen in Texas, northwestern Louisiana, and southwestern Arkansas, this date came to symbolize the day of the “Jubilo” for black people! They had prayed, sung, and shouted and finally their day of liberation had come.
Freedmen in Texas immediately gave meaning to Gordon Granger’s words. Beginning in 1866, Juneteenth was welcomed in the black community with barbecues, dances, and parades. During the 1960s and 1970s, the remembrance diminished because younger blacks thought the day was a reminder of enslavement and the denial of equal opportunities. In June 1974, Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz issued a proclamation making June 19 “Emancipation Proclamation Day in Houston.”
That same year Rev. C. Anderson Davis began the annual Juneteenth Parade in downtown Houston. In Texas, the celebration gained new momentum after State Representative Al Edwards (Dem.-Houston) sponsored a bill in 1979 that declared Juneteenth a state holiday. Juneteenth activities across Texas and the West usually include speeches, picnics, sporting events, barbecues, and musical and religious services. Houston’s Emancipation Park, established in 1872, became the center of Juneteenth celebrations in that city. The celebration was particularly meaningful because freedmen bought this park in 1872 and gave it to the city.
Juneteenth freed the bondsmen legally from the institution of slavery, but the observance of Juneteenth was a constant reminder to the freedmen and their descendants that that the struggles of enslaved Texans for justice continued into the post-Civil War era.