There are actually two independence days in the United States. African Americans celebrate Juneteenth as the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863.

The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on Texans, however, due to the minimal number of Union troops on hand to enforce the new Executive Order. But with the surrender of General Lee in April 1865 and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, Union forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

When Texas fell and Granger dispatched his now famous order No. 3, it wasn’t instant freedom for most of the Lone Star State’s 250,000 slaves. On plantations, slave owners could decide when and how to announce the news – or wait for a government agent to arrive – and it was not uncommon for them to delay until after the harvest.

Despite the announcement, Texas slave owners weren’t eager to part with what they felt was their property. When freed people tried to leave, many of them were beaten, lynched, or murdered. “They would catch freed slaves swimming across the Sabine River and shoot them,” a former enslaved person named Susan Merritt recalled.

Juneteenth gets its name from the combination of June and Nineteenth, and is also known as Emancipation Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, and Black Independence Day. Celebrations typically include prayer and religious services, speeches, educational events, family gatherings and picnics, and festivals with music, food, and dancing.

More About Juneteenth

Why All Americans Should Honor Juneteenth (VOX)

Recommended Reading



Local Organizations

National Organizations

Additional Resources