Juneteenth: A Time of Reflection and Rejoicing

Although dates of emancipation vary from state to state, June 19th has come to be celebrated throughout the United States as a day to commemorate the end of slavery.

Page updated on Jul 17, 2020 at 11:24 AM

Juneteenth: A Time of Reflection and Rejoicing

John Mercer Langston Portrait, Library of Congress 
John Mercer Langston delivered keynote speeches in Alexandria in 1895 and 1897.
Frederick Douglass Portrait, Library of Congress
 Frederick Douglass was keynote speaker at the 31st anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on September 24, 1894.
On June 19th, we celebrate Juneteenth (June + 19th), commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On that day in 1865, General Gordon Granger of the Union Army and his troops arrived in Galveston to announce that the enslaved people in Texas were free and that “…rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."

It took approximately 2 1/2 years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation for the news to reach the enslaved people in Texas that slaves in the rebellious states had been freed and for a sufficient number of soldiers to be in this remote area to enforce the executive order.

Texans began celebrating Juneteenth in 1866 and it was proclaimed an official state holiday in 1980. Emancipation celebrations throughout the years have included picnics and barbecues, family reunions, parades, music and dancing, speeches and stories, prayer services and learning, rodeos and horseback riding, carnivals and bazaars, beauty pageants, fishing, baseball games, and races.

While Texas chose June 19th as its Emancipation Day, some localities used the date when its enslaved population received the news of liberation. Yet others preferred January 1st, the date the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863 or September 22nd, when President Lincoln first announced the Proclamation in 1862.

In Alexandria, there has been some discussion about observing Emancipation Day on April 7th, the date that the slaves were emancipated in Virginia. With a rich history of observance beginning in 1889, Alexandrians have celebrated on different days of the year and in different months. The first decade featured two eminent and renowned speakers, Frederick Douglass and John Mercer Langston. Douglass, abolitionist and orator, was the keynote speaker at the 31st anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on September 24, 1894. Langston, the first African American elected to the United States Congress from Virginia, delivered keynote speeches in 1895 and 1897.

More recently, the Alexandria Black History Museum has celebrated Juneteenth for almost 30 years. Small festivals began with a mayoral reading of the Emancipation Proclamation followed by food, vendors, performances, and children’s games and crafts. Later observances have included film screenings, children’s programming, an open house featuring doll houses of historic Alexandria, and lectures by notable speakers, such as U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black, co-sponsored by the Northern Virginia Urban League, and historian C.R. Gibbs.

Although different localities may have varying Emancipation dates with diverse activities and programs, Juneteenth has come to symbolize emancipation, recognized in almost every state and the District of Columbia, incorporating African traditions with themes of freedom, hope, achievement, education, and respect for all cultures.

Juneteenth Video Statements, 2020

Juneteenth and the Carlton Funn Collection

Juneteenth Carlton Funn BoardCelebrate Juneteenth by exploring local history with two collections from the Alexandria Black History Museum that are now available to view online: The Carlton Funn Collection, nearly 1,500 display boards created to teach the importance of diversity, and photographs from our Parker-Gray School Collection. Enjoy a Juneteenth themed preview of Funn, learn more about Mr. Funn and his exhibition, or simply browse both collections.

Emancipation in the News, in the 19th Century

Emancipation Celebration in Alexandria, September 23, 1895 Alexandria Gazette

Emancipation celebrations were recorded in the Alexandria Gazette numerous times. Here are transcriptions of two of these articles.

This webpage contains 1890s  articles about Alexandria Emancipation Day celebrations. These articles were written through the white media lens of the period. When referring to African Americans the term colored is used. We post these articles in the interest of historical accuracy. The terminology that was used to refer to all communities of color  has evolved over time. These articles are only shared now to give our audience a better understanding of the event and Alexandria’s racial climate. The City of Alexandria respects the history and diversity of all of its residents, employees and visitors.  

Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser 
September 23, 1895

EMANCIPATION CELEBRATION. -- The colored people of this city and neighborhood turned out in force this afternoon to celebrate the anniversary of the emancipation proclamation of President Lincoln. The military and civic organizations made a fine show. The Washington Cadet Corps, Capital City Guards, National Guards and Butler Light Infantry, of Washington, were in line, as were also the Fairfax Farmers Association (mounted), and a colored zouave company of this city. There was a float containing a number of young colored girls and boys in the procession. The float broke down while on King street, but was quickly repaired. To-night the closing exercises will be held in Shiloh Church, when J. M. Langston and others will speak.

Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser 
September 18, 1893

EMANCIPATION PARADE AND ANNIVERSARY. – The colored people of this city and vicinity under the auspices of the Weekly Leader and Excelsior Club, will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the emancipation proclamation on next Friday evening, September 22d. The celebration will begin with a street parade starting from odd Fellows' Hall at 6.30 p. m. It will be composed of the Industrial Guards, Laboring Men's Union, No. 1, White Shirt Club, No. 1, Emancipation Club, benevolent societies, Portner's workingmen, Jefferson Township Club, delegations from Arlington and Fairfax, Virginia Blues, of Arlington ; delegation from Hyattsville Md. ; the Butler Infantry corps, Capt, Benj. Young, of Washington, D.C. ; Spartan Club, Ladies' Auxiliary, of B. I. Corps, White Shirt Clubs, I, 2 and 3, Pioneers, Shaw Post, True Reformers and other organizations from Washington. Prof. H. Murray's Metropolitan Brass Band will head the line. The following have been appointed by Chairman Robinson as mounted marshalls. Chief, Wm., A. Carter : aides, Geo. w. Hobday, John Grisby, R. J. Preston and Thos. Shelton. The parade will be through the principal streets. The visiting military will arrive at the local depot at 6:40 p. m. Chairman Robinson received to-day Gov. McKinney's permit for the entry into the State of the Butler Infantry. At the conclusion of the parade, speaking will take place at Odd Fellows' Hall. The exercises will be opened by a chorus of young women. The edict will be read by Charles K. M. Browne, a colored attache of the British Legation. Address by Magnus L. Robinson, editor of the Alexandria Weekly Leader. Select poem, written by lawyer T. L. Jones, of Virginia, subject, "Industrial Emancipation. Addresses by others. Among the white citizens of Virginia invited are Senator Hunton and Representative E. E. Meredith. Senator Hunton has sent a letter of regret. Representative Meredith writes: "Allow me to thank you for the kind and courteous letter just received. If possible, I will be glad to accept your kind invitation.” The indications are that this emancipation occasion will reflect great credit on its managers.  

Emancipation Celebration in Washington, D.C. April 19. 1866. From Harper's Weekly.

Emancipation Celebration in Washington, D.C. April 19. 1866. From Harper's Weekly.