Galveston, birthplace of Juneteenth, to recognize day as official city holiday

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On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were finally informed of their freed status—two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln officiated the Emancipation Proclamation. Now over 150 years after that storied announcement, Galveston has made Juneteenth an official city holiday. 

“We’ve embraced Juneteenth for so many years in Galveston, we felt that it was our celebration and sometimes we just didn’t realize the importance of making that more official,” said Galveston Mayor Craig Brown.

Although Galveston is the birthplace of Juneteenth and has observed it with grand parades, historical re-enactments, art exhibitions and the like, making it an official city holiday will give government city employees a paid day off and non-emergency government offices will be closed, KPRC reports. 

Historic marker for Juneteenth in Galveston, Texas. (Credit: Galveston.com)

Brown also referenced the work of 94-year-old Marshall, Texas native and activist Ms. Opal Lee, who has campaigned to make Juneteenth a national holiday for years. 

“The fact is none of us are free till we’re all free. Knowing that slaves didn’t get the word for two and a half years after the emancipation, can’t you imagine how those people felt?,” Lee told the New York Times in 2020. 

The initiative was led by city councilman William Schuster, a history teacher in the Galveston Independent School District. “There’s been a push to make Juneteenth a federal holiday and we have the birthplace of it here and so many cities across the country are honoring it so I think it’s perfect for us to authorize it today,” said Schuster in a May city council meeting. 

As many historians have explained, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all enslaved peoples across the US because it only applied to those living in Confederate-controlled states and some territories did not enforce it. Before being taken over by the Union Army, the Lone Star State was also a safe place for citizens who were not willing to give up the institution of slavery. 

News of the Emancipation Proclamation did not arrive to the southeastern Texas city of Galveston until over two and a half years later. In 2014, the Texas Historical Society dedicated a marker the arrival of Union General Gordon Granger to Galveston, who read General Order No. 3, which stated, “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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”

Now, Galveston joins cities like St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Fayetteville in making the holiday official with days off for city employees. As theGrio previously reported, Oregon recently passed legislation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday and so has Washington state.

In 1979, Texas became the first state in the nation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday.

TheGrio’s DeMicia Inman contributed to this report. 

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