Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free--two and a half years after President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
General Order Number 3
General Granger’s first order of business was to read the order to the people of Texas. General Order Number 3 began:
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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.
Many activities were available to entertain the masses of Juneteenth celebrants, many of which continue today. Rodeos, fishing, barbecuing, and playing baseball were very common. These same activities are how many celebrants continue to commemorate Juneteenth. Juneteenth has also focused on education and self-improvement. Oftentimes guest speakers were invited in to impart knowledge and the elders were called upon to recount the events of the past. Prayer services were also a major part of these celebrations.
Foods become popular and, subsequently synonymous, with the celebrations for which they are served. Red foods such as strawberry soda and red velvet cake are commonly found at a Juneteenth celebration. More traditional food, and still quite popular, was barbecuing. Through this style of cooking, Juneteenth participants share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors - the newly emancipated African Americans - experienced during their ceremonies. Thus, the barbecue pit is often established as the center of attention at Juneteenth celebrations.
Food was abundant because everyone prepared a special dish. Lamb, pork, and beef were common mainstays for Juneteenth meals. Certain cuts of these meats were not available to enslaved people during slavery hence the importance of cooking them on this special occasion. A true Juneteenth celebration left visitors well satisfied and with enough conversation to last until the next.