Texas Traveler: Juneteenth Celebrations

Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the emancipation of slaves in the United States, first began in Galveston, and as such, the area around Houston is home to some of the biggest and most lavish Juneteenth celebrations in the world.

The June 19 holiday, also sometimes called Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, marks the day in 1865 when federal soldiers arrived in Galveston to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, signed in September 1862. The proclamation was set to go into effect on January 1 of the follow year, but slave owners in Confederate Texas largely ignored the ruling until Union general Gordon Granger stormed Galveston with his troops in the waning days of the Civil War.

Juneteenth became an official holiday in Texas in 1980, thanks to eccentric Texas State Representative Al Edwards, and now 31 states officially recognize the celebration. Many celebrations begin during the week leading up to June 19. Both Houston and Austin are home to city parks named Emancipation Park due to their history as locations for early Juneteenth celebrations.

In Houston, celebrations will take place throughout the city. This past weekend was the 36th Annual Juneteenth Parade and the Juneteenth Multicultural Health Festival, but coming Saturday a more subdued event will take place at The Center for the Healing of Racism. The Center will host its 15th Annual Juneteenth Ally Award BBQ Luncheon to recognize Tim Wise, an anti-racist writer and educator who has worked with schools, businesses and law enforcement officials on ways to treat and prevent institutionalized racism. Tickets to the event are $35 and include lunch. The event begins at at 12:30 p.m. at the Cullen Oaks Community Center, 4600 Cullen Blvd. Call 713-520-8226 for more info.

The City of Galveston is of course the granddaddy of all Juneteenth celebrants, and this year will orchestrate the 30th annual recitation of the Emancipation Proclamation, along with a prayer breakfast, at 8:30 a.m. June 19 at Ashton Villa, 2300 Broadway. The Juneteenth Jubilee Parade will begin at 11 a.m. at 25th and Ball, ending at the New Wright Cuney Park at 41st and Ball. Events following the parade include a picnic, a gospel concert and a march from the courthouse following a recitation of General Order #3, originally read by Gordon Granger in 1865.

Brenham has a strong link to the Emancipation holiday. As a major site of growth during the Reconstruction, it was the home of a large freedmen's school established in the 1870s, and its Juneteenth parade is something of a legend. Unfortunately, the interest in the event declined in the early part of the 20th Century with problems such as the Depression and World War II weighing heavily on people's minds. Juneteenth saw a revival during the Civil Rights Movement and a strong resurgence after it's official recognition by Texas in the Eighties. Brenham's Washington County Historical Juneteenth Association's 25th Annual Parade will take place at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in downtown Brenham, with a festival and food to follow afterwards at Firemen's Park. Both events are free. For more information, call 979-836-9438.

More events are scheduled throughout the state. For a full listing, see the calendar at Juneteenth.com.

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