What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is an annual celebration commemorating the 1865 abolition of slavery in Texas.
Though cut off from the rest of the South in 1863, much of Texas remained unoccupied by Union troops until Union general Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston, Texas, 10 weeks after Lee’s surrender. On June 19, 1865, Granger issued General Order No. 3, declaring: “The people of Texas are informed that all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights of property between masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.” Thus, two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Granger made it the law in Texas.
As word of Granger’s order spread, African Americans joined in spontaneous celebration of “Juneteenth.” Beginning in 1866, the anniversary of Juneteenth became an occasion for picnics, baseball games, family reunions, and other revelry. By the turn of the 20th century, Juneteenth celebrations also featured prayer services and oratory. Speakers typically urged celebrants to dedicate themselves to education and spiritual uplift.
As late as the 1930s, tens of thousands of people participated in Juneteenth celebrations across Texas. With the number of former slaves dwindling, however, Juneteenth shrank in importance after World War II. The rise of public education may have also played a role; history textbooks dated the end of slavery to Abraham Lincoln‘s 1863 proclamation rather than to events in Texas.
In the late 1960s, Juneteenth celebrations began again to grow as African Americans reclaimed their history. Juneteenth was prominent, for instance, on the buttons and banners Texans carried to the June 1969 Poor People’s March on Washington, D.C. As interest revived, pressure mounted to declare Juneteenth a state holiday in Texas, a goal achieved in 1980. Juneteenth has since become a national symbol of slavery’s demise, a fact marked by the 1999 publication of Ralph Ellison’s posthumous novel Juneteenth, set in early 20th-century Texas. Says one of Ellison’s characters, “There’ve been a heap of Juneteenths gone by and there’ll be a heap more before we’re free.”
Juneteenth in New Jersey
In September 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed bill S19 declaring Juneteenth – to be celebrated on the third Friday in June – a state and public holiday.
Databases and Research
SBPL has a number of resources to study and learn more about this day and its importance.
InfoBase African American History
Covering more than 500 years of the African-American experience, African-American History offers a fresh way to explore the full spectrum of African-American history and culture, with tablet/mobile-friendly videos and slideshows, images, biographies of key people, event and topic entries, primary sources, maps and graphs, and timelines.
HeritageQuest/Freedman’s Bank Records
Freedman’s Bank Records are a great source for genealogists researching their African American heritage. This database is an index to registers of signatures of depositors and includes images of original records. These documents contain invaluable information about individuals prior to the 1870 U.S. Federal Census.
https://www.heritagequestonline.com/ipbarcode?aid=14630 (Click on “Freedman’s Bank Records” on the top menu)
The New York Public Library posted about historical Juneteenth celebrations around the U.S.
SBPL staff has compiled reading suggestions for those interested in learning more about the context and legacy of this important commemoration.
Black History K-3rd Grade Reads
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture has a number of virtual talks and experiences that you can participate in. For more information, go to https://nmaahc.si.edu/events/juneteenth
NJ Family magazine has compiled a list of NJ Juneteenth in-person and virtual events on this calendar: https://www.njfamily.com/celebrate-juneteenth-with-virtual-and-in-person-events/
The Newark Museum of Art is hosting a full Community Day with a number of virtual and in-person events. For more information: https://www.newarkmuseumart.org/community-day-juneteenth