On a hot, dusty day in Galveston, Texas, Union Major-General Gordon Grainger read the general orders at a town gathering - all saves were to be free. Since that day, June 19th, 1865, African-Americans have celebrated the summer holiday in recognition of the emancipation of slaves. The Texas State Library and Archives says, "Large celebrations on June 19 began in 1866 and continued regularly into the early 20th century. The African-Americans treated this day like the Fourth of July and the celebrations contained similar events. In the early days, the celebration included a prayer service, speakers with inspirational messages, reading of the emancipation proclamation, stories from former slaves, food, red soda water, games, rodeos and dances."
Juneteenth's popularity has waxed and waned over the years. During World War II celebrations were halted but the holiday was revived in the 1950s. Texas began the Juneteenth celebrations, but they also occurred in southern states like Alabama and Florida and even in California.
The Juneteenth website says, "Today Juneteenth commemorates African-American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing." The website also says that Juneteenth is the oldest nation's oldest emancipation commemoration.
People that celebrate Juneteenth do so in different ways. Some communities hold historical conferences that educate Americans on the history of slavery in America. Some schools show their support for the African-American community with skits, dance and dramas. Families like holding dinners and barbecues with friends and family. At the heart of all these events is a need to stay connected with the past, in appreciation for how far the nation has come and with hope that freedom will continue to flourish.