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What is juneteenth?

The Emancipation Proclamation

Juneteenth is a holiday which marked the effective end of slavery in the United States.

On June 19, 1865, two months after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Union General Gordon Granger and 1,800 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

More than two years before Granger’s announcement, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (on January 1, 1863), which made known that all enslaved people in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t instantly free any slaves because it only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control. However, as Northern troops advanced into the Confederate South, many slaves fled behind Union lines.

Juneteenth and Slavery in Texas

In Texas, slavery was unaffected because the state experienced no large-scale fighting or significant presence of Union troops. Many slave owners from outside the Lone Star State viewed it as a safe haven and moved there with their slaves.

After the war came to an end in the spring of 1865, General Granger’s arrival in Galveston that June signaled freedom for Texas’s 250,000 slaves. Although emancipation didn’t happen overnight for everyone—in some cases, slave owners withheld the information until after harvest season—celebrations broke out among newly freed blacks, and Juneteenth was born. (That December, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.)