In 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech at an event celebrating American independence. He had some harsh words about the meaning of the July 4th and words like “freedom” and “independence” for blacks in America: “This fourth of July is yours; not mine. You may rejoice – I must mourn.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
Frederick Douglass – July 5, 1852 Rochester, New York
June 19th is the day celebrated by many in African American communities as the beginning of freedom from the system of slavery:
Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, is the name given to emancipation day by African-Americans in Texas. On that day in 1865 Union Major General Gordon Granger read General Order #3 to the people of Galveston. General Order #3 stated “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
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.
The celebration of June 19 as emancipation day spread from Texas to the neighboring states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. It has also appeared in Alabama, Florida, and California as African-American Texans migrated.
In many parts of Texas, ex-slaves purchased land, or “emancipation grounds,” for the Juneteenth gathering. Examples include: Emancipation Park in Houston, purchased in 1872; what is now Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia; and Emancipation park in East Austin.
Celebration of Juneteenth declined during World War II but revived in 1950 at the Texas State Fair Grounds in Dallas. Interest and participation fell away during the late 1950’s and 1960’s as attention focused on expansion of freedom for African-Americans. In the 1970’s Juneteenth revived in some communities. For example, in Austin the Juneteenth celebration returned in 1976 after a 25 year hiatus. House Bill no.1016 passed in the 66th legislature, regular session, declared June 19, “Emancipation Day in Texas,” a legal state holiday effective January 1, 1980. Since that time, the celebration of Juneteenth continues across the state of Texas with parades, picnics and dancing.
Thanks, Texas State Library reference services.