What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth marks an important moment in American history, June 19, 1865, when the enslaved in Galveston, Texas first learned of their freedom, two and a half years after the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. On that day, Mayor General Gordon Granger came to town with General Order Number 3 and the news that the enslaved were free. Over the years Juneteenth commemorations have grown into broad and jubilant celebrations of achievement, community and heritage and our events in Hartford are among the finest.

There are many possible explanations for the delay. A messenger may have been killed on his way to Texas with the news of freedom or maybe the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the free labor force on the plantations. Another possibility is that federal troops waited for the slave owners to have one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. For whatever the reasons, slavery in Texas remained beyond the legal deadline. The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. With no specific destination some freed slaves went North and some tried to find their families in nearby states. Wherever they landed, life was not easy for the newly freed people. However, Juneteenth brought everyone together in joyful celebration every year. Such celebrations feature many family friendly activities, refreshments and a focus on education and self-improvement.

“Juneteenth is arguably one of the most important days in our country’s history as well as African American history. On this day 140 years ago, this country made a good faith effort to live up to the principals it was founded on: liberty and justice for all. The Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, was put into effect on January 1, 1863, but news of the Proclamation and enforcement did not reach Texas until after the end of the Civil War almost two years later.” - Juneteenth: A Day to Remember, U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, Press Release, 2005