Independence Day in the United States is officially celebrated on 4 July, but for many Americans the 1776 Declaration of Independence did not signal freedom. Instead, Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation recognized and proclaimed freedom for the slaves, even though the news did not reach all of the slaves for several years. Juneteenth celebrations commemorate Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger’s 1865 ride through the South carrying the news of emancipation and his announcement on 19 June in Galveston, Texas, that slavery had been abolished. That date was eventually shortened to Juneteenth.
As populations subsequently shifted and migrated, Juneteenth celebrations spread to other states, including Mississippi. Typical festivities for the day include rodeos, parades, reenactments of Granger’s ride, concerts, sports tournaments, car shows, and elaborate picnics. Many of the celebratory activities seek to fulfill possibilities not available to slaves during their captivity, such as being free from hunger, and the dress is traditionally Sunday best. Because different groups of slaves were freed at different times, not everyone celebrates Juneteenth on the same day or even in the same month, but the most common day remains 19 June.
In 1979 Texas became the first state to officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. From 2004 until 2010, several Mississippi legislators, including Rufus Straughter, Bryant Clark, Omeria Scott, Erik R. Fleming, John Hines, and John Mayo, proposed legislation making Juneteenth a state holiday. In 2010, Mississippi became the thirty-sixth state to do so, and by 2016, forty-three states had recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday or special day of observance. In 2012 the US Postal Service issued a Juneteenth “Flags of Freedom” stamp. In 2014 the US Senate unanimously recognized 19 June of that year as “Juneteenth Independence Day.” Supporters continue to work to persuade Congress to declare the occasion a National Day of Observance, like Flag Day.
Many Mississippi communities and groups hold Juneteenth celebrations. In recent years festivities have taken place in Hattiesburg, Itta Bena, Biloxi, Guntown, Natchez, Tupelo, Oxford, Columbus, Vicksburg, Laurel, Greenville, Belzoni, Tchula, Jackson, and many more towns and cities.
- National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign website, www.juneteenth.us
- William H. Wiggins Jr., in Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African-American Folklore, ed. Francis Edward Abernethy (1996)