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News | June 16, 2023

EEO: Juneteenth origins, history explained

By EEO Office DCMA

Celebration of Juneteenth origin stems from Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger's arrival in Galveston, Texas, in June 1865.

He issued General Order No. 3, enforcing the emancipation proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln three years earlier. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and Union armies moved toward victory, slave holders moved further west, taking with them their enslaved people. By 1865, there were more than 200,000 enslaved people in Texas. General Order No. 3 ensured that their freedom would be enforced by the Army.

Though slavery did not legally end throughout the United States until the passage of the Constitution’s 13th Amendment in December 1865, June 19 has been celebrated as “Freedom Day,” since 1866. The event began to be called Juneteenth in the 1890’s and was celebrated — especially in African-American communities — to mark the end of slavery.

According to a 2023 Congressional Research Center Juneteenth Fact Sheet, “Texans celebrated Juneteenth beginning in 1866 with community-centric events, such as parades, cookouts, prayer gatherings, historical and cultural readings, and musical performances. Over time, communities have developed their own traditions. Some communities purchased land for Juneteenth celebrations, such as Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas. As families emigrated from Texas to other parts of the United States, they carried Juneteenth celebrations with them. On Jan. 1, 1980, Juneteenth officially became a Texas state holiday. Al Edwards, a freshman state representative, put forward the bill, H.B. 1016, making Texas the first state to grant this emancipation celebration. Since then, the federal government, all 50 states, and the District of Columbia have also commemorated or recognized the day.”

The event became associated with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was declared a state holiday in Texas in 1980. Many other states followed over the next decades.

In June 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, making Juneteenth a national holiday to be observed on the third Monday in June.

DCMA Director Army Lt. Gen. David Bassett shared his Juneteenth thoughts in a June 2023 message to agency team members: “America’s last 158 years mark significant progress in fulfilling the founders’ promise of equality for all, but there is work to be done. Learning our past, listening to the stories of others and embracing the spirit of June 19 ensures that one day we can fulfill that promise together. Freedom is our most powerful ideal. Let us embrace it with equality, dignity and respect for every American — on June 19 and every day of the year.”