On June 19, 1865, the Union General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Tex., to inform inhabitants of the Civil War's end two months earlier. Two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Granger's General Order Number 3 finally freed the last 250,000 slaves whose bondage, due to the minimal Union presence in the region, had been essentially unaffected by Lincoln's efforts. June 19th—which was quickly shortened to "Juneteenth" among celebrants—has become the African-American addendum to our national Independence Day, for, as Juneteenth jubilees remind us, the Emancipation Proclamation did not bring about emancipation, and the prevailing portrayal of Independence Day ignores the ignominious incidence of slavery entirely.
Observance of Juneteenth has traditionally tended towards church-centered celebrations featuring food, fun, and a focus on self-improvement and education by guest speakers. Although initially associated with Texas and other Southern states, the Civil Rights Era and the Poor People's March to Washington in 1968, in particular, helped spread the tradition all across America—to the extent that Milwaukee and Minneapolis now host two of the largest Juneteenth celebrations in the nation.
The state of Texas made Juneteenth an official holiday on Jan. 1, 1980, and became the first to grant it government recognition. Several states have since issued proclamations recognizing the holiday, but the Lone Star State remains alone in granting it full state holiday status, a day when government employees have the day off. Nonetheless, supporters and celebrants of Juneteenth continue to grow in number and in diversity; today, Juneteenth is promoted not only as a commemoration of African-American freedom, but as an example and encouragement of self-development and respect for all cultures.