Celebrating Juneteenth

A view of Galveston from the International Space Station. The colors are faded: the land is a muted green, while the water is a hazy blue.

The crew aboard the International Space Station captured this image of Galveston, Texas, the birthplace of Juneteenth, as the station orbited 224 miles above on Nov. 23, 2011.

In the early 1800s, slavers periodically used Galveston Island as an outpost for operations. By 1860, about one-third of Galveston’s population lived under the oppression of chattel slavery. Even after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, in the midst of America’s Civil War, change came slowly to Galveston. Most enslaved people were unaware of Lincoln’s executive order, and the practice of buying and selling Black people based on race continued in Galveston and other parts of Texas until well into 1865.

When Union troops arrived in April 1865, circumstances changed. U.S. Major General Gordon Granger then issued General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865, and Union troops marched through Galveston and read the order aloud at several locations, informing the people of Texas that all enslaved people were free. As news of the order spread, spontaneous celebrations broke out in African American churches, homes, and other gathering places. As years passed, the picnics, barbecues, parades, and other celebrations that sprang up to commemorate June 19th became more formalized as freed men and women purchased land, or “emancipation grounds,” to hold annual Juneteenth celebrations.

Image Credit: NASA

First published at NASA.gov

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