Wikipedia explains that the celebration of Juneteenth (originally Jubilee Day) began in Texas and later spread to other parts of the South. The date commemorates June 19th, 1865 when General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 and read it publicly at Galviston island. The name Juneteenth caught on by the 1890s, and by that time it was celebrated on a significant scale within Texas. It seems that it was only much later, perhaps the 1940s, that Juneteenth began to be celebrated in other states, and it was spread widely by the Great Migration.

Did other celebrations of the end of slavery exist prior to the Great Migration? I would intuitively suspect yes, but cannot find any examples. It would be relevant to know either way, but this would still leave the question: why Texas? Was there anything particular about the black communities of postbellum Texas that can explain the emergence and wider adoption of their Juneteenth tradition?

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    I would question whether it actually is national. Certainly I don't recall hearing of it until the past few weeks. As an ethnic celebration, it's hardly as widely celebrated (at least in the part of the US where I live) as Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick's Day. (Though it probably edges out St. Urho's Day :-))
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 5:22
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    It's the most nationally recognized celebration of the end of slavery, and seems to be celebrated by black people nation-wide. To your point, most white people haven't even heard of it, but that doesn't really change the question.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 14:03
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    Would it be possible to coalesce the question in the title with the 3 questions in the body? Right now, they seem like very different questions.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 16:35
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    @Brian Z: Just my point. Because it's widely recognized among a minority does not mean that it's a national celebration, any more than say Yom Kippur.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 17:39
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    I read somewhere recently that slavery of blacks continued in the then Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma) among the Choctaws and other Native American nations (many of whom had sided with the Confederates in the Civil War) until 1866 when it was finally suppressed.
    – Timothy
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 23:52

1 Answer 1


Did other celebrations of the end of slavery exist prior to the Great Migration? I would intuitively suspect yes, but cannot find any examples.

The District of Columbia celebrates April 16th as Emancipation Day

The DC Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862 ended slavery in Washington, DC, freed 3,100 individuals, reimbursed those who had legally owned them and offered the newly freed women and men money to emigrate. It is this legislation, and the courage and struggle of those who fought to make it a reality, that we commemorate every April 16, DC Emancipation Day

In Tennessee August 8th has been celebrated:

The reason for observing August 8th as opposed to January 1st or even September 22nd—the day Lincoln announced the preliminary Proclamation in 1862—remains speculative. Some note that Tennessee Military Governor Andrew Johnson freed his personal slaves on August 8, 1863, at his Greenville, Tennessee, farm. Interestingly, Sam Johnson, a former slave of Johnson, was a key organizer for the first recorded August 8th celebration in 1871. Others allege that enslaved people in Tennessee and Kentucky learned of the Emancipation Proclamation on August 8, 1863. However, pro-Union Kentucky and Union-occupied Tennessee did not fall under the provisions of the Proclamation which abolished slavery only in rebellious Confederate states.

Some parts of Kentucky also celebrate August 8th.

September 22nd is celebrated in some locations.

May 20th has been celebrated in Georgia and Florida.

This 15 September 1950 Illinois Times article explains when emancipation was variously celebrated:

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Celebrating Juneteenth has spread from Texas to Arizona at least by 1921, as the Phoenix Tribune has a big front page article on the local celebration.

Celebration in Oklahoma in 1915 was reported in the Tulsa Daily World.

A 1924 magazine American Lumberman says sawmills in the Elizabeth, Louisiana area would close for 1 to 3 days to celebrate Juneteenth.

  • In a legal sense, December 6 would make the most sense. (Ratification of the 13th amendment on 6 December 1865.) Ironically, that date coincides with one prominent festival still celebrated in blackface in some parts of the world.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 18:13
  • @CMonsour I've been searching through this newspaper database: chroniclingamerica.loc.gov and September 22nd seems to have been the most popular. June 19th seems to have been confined to Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona. I see many different dates, but never December 6th.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 18:22
  • Sept 22 is sensible in that it happened first (22 September 1862)...the Enancipation Proclamation. But it didn't free all slaves, only slaves in the rebellious states, and only de iure, not de facto, and it didn't take effect until 1 January 1863.
    – C Monsour
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 20:41
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    Nice work @DavePhD. I'm holding off on marking this accepted for now because the headline question remains open, but at least you've confirmed my conjecture that other dates were celebrated with multiple primary sources.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 22:23
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    @BrianZ The oldest example I see so far of someone considering Juneteenth a "national" celebration is the text of this 1994 Oklahoma statute: casetext.com/statute/oklahoma-statutes/…. As President, George W. Bush would officially recognize each Juneteenth, like this: georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/06/…
    – DavePhD
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 1:15

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