Re-enactor Marvin-Alonzo Greer is shown during a Juneteenth celebration at the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum, June 20, 2014.
Kent D. Johnson—AP Photo
By Lily Rothman
June 19, 2015

It was back in April that we marked the 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox Court House. But word of the Civil War’s end didn’t reach Texas until June 19, 1865.

As TIME explained in 1997:

Texas got the big news a little late. On June 19, 1865–nearly a month after the Civil War ended and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation–General Gordon Granger of the Union Army landed at Galveston, Texas, and read aloud General Order No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Spontaneous celebrations broke out in Galveston and spread around the state–and thus the holiday of “Juneteenth” began.

What followed, however, was more complicated than the early celebration suggested. Proof could be found in a New York Times story from that July, headlined “The Negro Question in Texas.” The story reported that Granger’s order had specified to the people of Texas that the freedom of the former slaves “involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”

It seemed that the people of Houston didn’t quite get the message: freedmen were being interrogated as to whom they belonged to; if they did not name someone, they would be accused of idleness and put to work for the city. “[So], if this was an outbreak of the old spirit, a drawing distinctions based upon color alone, giving white men the right to be as idle as they please, but not tolerating idleness among the blacks; allowing whites to work where they please, but sending blacks ‘home to their masters’ or to the public works; it is a system which will have to be changed at Galveston, or wherever it is entered upon,” the Times concluded.

It took years before Juneteenth celebrations expanded. One remnant of early commemorations can still be seen in cities like Houston, where the still-in-use Emancipation Park was created after the freed population pooled money in 1872 to purchase the land in order to use it for Juneteenth celebrations.

More than a century later, in 1997, Congress recognized Juneteenth with a joint resolution, commemorating the fact that “Juneteenth celebrations have thus been held for 130 years to honor the memory of all those who endured slavery and especially those who moved from slavery to freedom,” though it is not a nationally recognized holiday. At least one place, however, will mark the 150th anniversary with major festivities: Galveston, Tex.

Read more: Here’s How America Observes Juneteenth


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