Though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on September 22, 1862, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 when the full emancipation was completed. General Gordon Granger announced General Order #3, officially freeing America’s final slaves, when he arrived in Galveston, Texas. There are a number of theories why the announcement didn’t make its way to Texas, and Galveston especially: the messenger was killed en route, slaveholders didn’t pass along the information, or it kept getting delayed to give extra time for crop harvesting. Texas was well-positioned during the war. There were no major invasions from the Union Army, so operations weren’t interrupted. Some slave owners fled to the state to wait out the war.
In the years following Juneteenth day, many former slaves traveled back to Galveston to celebrate with parades, rodeos, baseball, and more. Over the first few years Reverend Jack Yates fundraised in order to be one of the first recorded African-American land purchaser. He was able to purchase Emancipation Park in Houston, TX for $1000. In Mexia, TX a local Juneteenth organization bought Booker T. Washington Park that has hosted celebrations since 1898. At one point it was the largest celebration—more than 20,000 people would travel there over a weeks’ time.
It wasn’t until 1980 that Juneteenth day became an official Texas holiday. There has been a decline in celebrations, often attributed to having less direct connections. People aren’t hearing the information from family members who experienced it, they are learning about it via textbook perceptions.