June 19
2016

The year of 2016 will be the 151th year of the annual historic celebration since its namesake on June 19, 1865. Juneteenth, or June 19, is the date celebrated and heralded by Americans as the nation's second independence day, where freed slaves in the 19th century acknowledged their newly learned freedom by joyous singing, dancing and feasting. The day's activities has not only become tradition, but a state holiday or observance in over 40 states. The City and the County of La Crosse, Wisconsin are honored to participate and Co-sponsor the first citywide Juneteenth Celebrate sponsored by the African American Mutual Assistance Network, Inc. The celebration is being held on Sunday, June 19, 2016 at Southside Neighborhood Center in La Crosse from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It's free and open to the public. For  scheduled activities and to get involved, click here.

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond.

Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society. 

Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day, is a holiday in the United States that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. state of Texas in June 1865, and more generally the emancipation of African-American slaves throughout the Confederate South. Celebrated on June 19, the term is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, and is recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in most states.

The holiday is observed primarily in local celebrations. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing", and readings by noted African-American writers such as Ralph Ellison and the late Maya Angelou. Celebrations may include parades, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, or Miss and Mr. Juneteenth contests.

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official 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. Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or neither of  these version could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln's authority over the rebellious states was in question   For whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

Gordon Granger, photo taken during American Civil War

General Order Number 3

One of General Granger's first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:

    "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." The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former 'masters' - attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove the some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America. Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territory. The celebration of June 19th was coined "Juneteenth" and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.

During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863. It declared all slaves to be freed in the Confederate States of America in rebellion and not in Union hands (this excluded Tennessee, Virginia and lower Louisiana, which were occupied by the Union). It also announced that the Union would start recruiting former slaves and free blacks to serve in the military and recruitment began in the spring of 1863. Slaves often escaped to Union lines for protection and many began to serve in the military. In some areas, contraband camps were set up to house the freedmen temporarily, as well as start schools and put adults to work. Lincoln had urged the governments in the Border States, which had remained in the Union, to free their slaves under a system of gradual abolition and compensation, but none did so. Those slaves were not emancipated until the end of the war.

Even when slaves gained freedom, this was a difficult era. Conditions in contraband camps were crowded, with poor sanitation, as existed in most military encampments. Just as more soldiers on both sides died of disease rather than wounds, because of the social disruption from the war and general harsh conditions, many former slaves died of disease in the years from 1862 to 1870, including from a smallpox epidemic.

More isolated geographically, Texas was not a battleground. Its slaves were not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation unless they escaped. Planters and other slaveholders had migrated into Texas from eastern states to escape the fighting, and many brought their slave property with them, increasing by the thousands the number of slaves in the state at the end of the Civil War.

By 1865, there were an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas. As news of end of the war moved slowly, it did not reach Texas until May 1865, and the Army of the Trans-Mississippi did not surrender until June 2. On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the federal government. On June 19, standing on the balcony of Galveston's Ashton Villa, Granger read aloud the contents of "General Order No. 3," announcing the total emancipation of slaves.

Former slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets after the announcement, although in the years afterward many struggled to work through the changes against resistance of whites. But, the following year, Freedmen organized the first of what became annual celebrations of Juneteenth in Texas. Barred in some cities from using public parks because of state-sponsored segregation of facilities, across parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land to hold their celebrations, such as Houston's Emancipation Park, Mexia's Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.

In the early 20th century, economic and political forces led to a decline in Juneteenth celebrations. From 1890 to 1908, Texas and all former Confederate states passed new constitutions or amendments that effectively disenfranchised blacks, excluding them from the political process. White Democrat-dominated state legislatures passed Jim Crow laws imposing second-class status. The Great Depression forced many blacks off farms and into the cities to find work. In these urban environments, African Americans had difficulty taking the day off to celebrate. From 1940 through 1970, in the second wave of the Great Migration, more than 5 million blacks left Texas, Louisiana and other parts of the South for the North and West Coast, where jobs were available in the defense industry for World War II. As historian Isabel Wilkerson writes, "The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went."

By the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights movement focused the attention of African-American youth on the struggle for racial equality and the future. But, many linked these struggles to the historical struggles of their ancestors. Following the 1968 Poor People's Campaign to Washington, D.C. called by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, many attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas where the day was not previously celebrated.

Since the 1980s and 1990s, the holiday has been more widely celebrated among African-American communities. In 1994 a group of community leaders gathered at Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana to work for greater national celebration of Juneteenth. Paul Herring started a neighborhood celebration in Flint, Michigan in 1994; as he said, "...this is our day to be happy." Juneteenth informal observance have spread to many other states, including Portland, Maine, in part carried by Texans. Expatriates have celebrated it in cities abroad, such as Paris. Some US military bases in other countries sponsor celebrations, in addition to those of private groups.

Organizations such as the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation are working toward gaining Congressional approval to designate Juneteenth as a national day of observance Others are working to have its 150th anniversary celebrated world wide.

We would like to thank the following for their support, participation and planning!:

Valjean Adams, Co-founder AAMAN; Gar Amunson, City of La Crosse Parks & Recreation; Ray Block, Faculty Member UW-L; LaQuita Brazil, Mentoring Director YMCA; Steve Carylon, Park & Rec.; Dave Clements, Executive Director La Crosse Area Convention & Visitors Bureau;  Gregg Cleveland, Fire Chief City of La Crosse; Chris Goodell, General Manager: La Crosse Loggers; Brent Hanifl, Director of Media & Membership La Crosse Area Convention and Visitors Bureau; Tim Kabat, Mayor;  Dan Kapanke, Owner: La Crosse Loggers; Linda Kloet, HR Benefits Coordinator County of La Crosse; Pamela Kendall, Community Member; Robert Lawrence, Captain, La Crosse Police Dept.; Mary Marco, County Personnel Director; Kristie Neve, Community Member; Jay Odegaard, Parks and Recreation & Forestry Supervisor; Heather Quackenboss, Program Director La Crosse Community Foundation; Rose Reinert, YWCA-Development Director; Steve Salerno, School District of La Crosse; Sam Scinta, Professor UW-L & Viterbo University; Cinthia Shireman, Parks & Forestry Coordinator; Regina L. Siegel, Director of Pupil Services & Learning Supports School District of La Crosse; Ronald Tischer, Chief of Police city of La Crosse; Dan Trussoni, Parks Coordinator; Ann O. Wales, Greater La Crosse Area Diversity Council; Veeda Walker, Community Member; Jason Witt, Director La Crosse County Human Services; County Diversity Workgroup, La Crosse County; and You!

For additional Information Contact:

Cecil Adams, CEO and Founder
African American Mutual Assistance Network, Inc.-(AAMAN)
2517 - 2519 South Avenue
La Crosse, Wisconsin 54601

608-519-2367 
   aamancfmlp@gmail.com

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