Juneteenth (a combination of June and nineteenth), also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Liberation Day, is celebrated annually on the 19th of June to commemorate Union army general Gordon Granger’s reading of federal orders in the city of Galveston, Texas, on 19 June 1865, proclaiming all enslaved persons in Texas were free.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation had formally freed them almost two and a half years earlier, and the American Civil War had largely ended with the defeat of the Confederate States in April, Texas was the most remote of the southern states, with a low presence of Union troops, so enforcement of the proclamation had been slow and inconsistent.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and approximately 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed. The announcement of freedom and its enforcement were particularly important in Texas. Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862 by Union troops, enslavers from Mississippi, Louisiana, and other eastern areas had been migrating to Texas with more than 150,000 enslaved people to avoid the Union Army, according to historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in an article in PBS.com.
It is considered the longest-running African American holiday and has been called “America’s second Independence Day.” Juneteenth acknowledges African American history and amplifies the magnitude of the culture’s struggle, impact and contribution to American society.
Although Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021, celebrations date back to 1866 and most states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation recognizing it as a holiday or observance. California currently recognizes the third Saturday of June in each year as Juneteenth National Freedom Day: A Day of Observance.
Director Witherell shares: “I am pleased to share that today the President signed an executive order declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday…Juneteenth is a good opportunity to reflect on the history of our country’s treatment of Black Americans, and to consider how our values can help guide us into a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive future.” Read Director Witherell’s full statement here - June, 16, 2021