News that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln had emancipated slaves in the rebellious southern states in September, 1862, did not reach slaves in Texas until June 19, 1865, a few months after the end of the US Civil war.
With the arrival of federal troops that day, and the end of slavery, the newly freed African Americans held a big celebration, which they called Juneteenth
, which is still celebrated annually — and not just in Texas.
There is always a festive mood in the days leading up to June 19th, or Juneteenth as it has been called here since June 19,1865.
That was when U.S. Army General Gordon Granger arrived in the port city of Galveston, south of Houston, and announced that all slaves were free.
Reflection on freedom
Houston Black Heritage Society Director Ovide Duncantell said, on Juneteenth, African Americans reflect on their struggle for freedom and justice. “We put more emphasis on this day than we do on the Fourth of July [US Independence Day], he explained. "Because, as you know, the Fourth of July was not a free day for us.”
Duncantell said it is important to educate younger generations about the meaning of the date.
Many black children have only a vague idea of what the holiday signifies.
“It is good that slavery is over and we can be free,” said one boy.
“Back in the day, the white people couldn’t be with the black people, but now we can be with each other,” a little girl remarked.
Emancipation Park, in Houston’s predominantly black Third Ward, is where some of the earliest Juneteenth celebrations took place.
Story continues beneath video on this year's free Juneteenth concert at Houston's Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park:
The land was bought by former slaves in 1872, according to local performer and activist Kijana Wiseman. “Four men got together and they organized the blacks and they bought this land here, 10 acres [about half a hectare] of land, and they made it into a place where people could go celebrate Juneteenth,” she stated.
She said celebrations have now moved to other parts of the city, like the Miller Outdoor Theater in Houston’s Hermann Park, now being prepared for a Juneteenth concert Thursday night.
But community leaders are hoping to give Emancipation Park new life through a $35 million refurbishing, funded by the city as well as private donors.
The renovated park will be the scene of celebrations for the 150th annual Juneteenth next year, and not just here. Educator Marilyn Mandisa Douglas Jones said the holiday is now observed all over the United States, and overseas.
“It has now spread beyond the United States to other parts of the world. It is celebrated in parts of the Caribbean, parts of Africa and in even in Russia,” she noted.
She said this is a celebration not just for African Americans, but for everyone. “No one is free until everyone is free. As Doctor [Martin Luther] King would say: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’” Jones said.
And that, she said, sums up the spirit and importance of Juneteenth.