US cities across the country offer June 19 sites and celebrations

On June 17 of last year, President Biden signed legislation making June 19 a federal holiday.

The signing follows the May 2020 murder of George Floyd and an often painful national focus on race-related issues in America. It was around this time that Juneteenth gained unprecedented recent attention.


Yet many Americans are unaware of the events the holiday commemorates and its incalculable significance to black Americans.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to learn more about Juneteenth and its central place in United States history by visiting sites on the East Coast and in the Western states.

What is Juneteenth?

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President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 declared that effective January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves” in the Confederate States during the American Civil War “are and shall henceforth be free”.

But the executive order has gone largely unenforced in southern states. Geographically isolated from Union military forces, Texas became a haven for slaveholders who circumvented the order and hid the end of the war and the emancipation proclamation to 250,000 slaves.

As the war raged, Union troops did not enforce the Proclamation in many southern states until January 1863. Two years later, the last battle ended with the defeat of General Edmund Kirby on June 2. 1865 in Galveston, Texas. Kirby’s surrender came eight weeks after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia.

The United States finally took action on June 19. Leading 2,000 soldiers, General Gordon Granger Lily “General Order No. 3”, at several locations in Galveston, including the “Negro Church on Broadway”, as the Reedy Chapel-AME Church was then known. Granger announcement that all slaves were free and the civil war was over. African Americans rejoiced in the streets after the announcement.

Granger’s troops then reprinted and circulated General Order No. 3 to the Gulf Coast of Texas and its eastern region, where 40% of African Americans were by the end of the war.

“Jubilee” and Juneteenth

A year after the announcement, the residents of Black Galveston held Texas’ first official emancipation celebration, which they called “Jubilee Day”. Organizers also used the events to inform fellow black citizens of their voting rights and guidelines. In 1872, the holiday was known as “Emancipation Day” and “Juneteenth”.

Although it originated in Texas, sites related to the June 19 story stretch across the United States, from the east coast to the western states.

Here are several sites travelers can visit to learn more about this crucial chapter in United States history:

Beautiful vintage homes in the historic district of Galveston, Texas.  (photo via Raluminate/iStock/Getty Images Plus)
The events that launched Juneteenth began in Galveston, Texas in 1865.

Galveston, TX

Any good Juneteenth trip should start where the holidays began, in Galveston. The Gulf Coast city offers several locations related to the June 19 story. Self-guided tours are available at Reedy Chapel AME Church, where Granger read The Order of Lincoln. In 1866, the historic church was turned over to freed slaves, becoming the first African Methodist Episcopal Church in Texas.

The building combines Gothic Revival architecture with regional craftsmanship, with stonework designed by an African-American politician, businessman, and labor leader. Norris Wright Cuney.

In Galveston, travelers can also pass by the historic house known as the Villa Ashtonfrom where General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3.

Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore’s ties to the original events of Juneteenth are primarily spiritual, due to the city’s history as a center of African-American life and the struggle for justice and equality, sentiments that inspired Juneteenth. Several current sites relate this heritage.

Abolitionist, orator, journalist, statesman and internationally renowned diplomat, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1817 (or 1818) in Talbot County, Maryland. Largely self-taught and mellowed by years of servitude, he launched his escape to Baltimore’s President Street Stationnow among the National Park Service’s Collection of Certified Underground Railroad Sites.

Disguised as a sailor and using identification papers obtained from a free black sailor, Douglass boarded a northbound train on September 3, 1838, beginning a stealthy journey to Philadelphia.

His later journalism calling for an end to slavery was influenced in part by Douglass’ experiences working as a trader for his master at the Point of Fell shipyard. The Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Museum chronicles this period and also celebrates Isaac Myers, founder of America’s first African-American-owned shipyard.

Years later, Douglass’ incisive anti-slavery rhetoric led northern whites to charge that he could never have been enslaved. Douglass authored his 1845 autobiography, which became an international bestseller, in part to counter these claims.

Houston, TX

African Americans migrated to Texas cities after the end of the Civil War, establishing “Freedman’s Towns” in the Fourth Ward of Houston, the Oak Cliff district of Dallas, and the Enclave of Ellis Alley in San Antonio.

In 1872, leaders of the black congregations of Houston’s Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church purchased 10 acres in Houston’s Third Ward to be used expressly to celebrate the end of the slavery in Texas.

The ground became known as Emancipation Park, the oldest in Houston. It was around this time that Jubilee Day in Texas became known as “Emancipation Day” or “Juneteenth”.

Today, Houston travelers can visit The city of freedmen, where formerly enslaved people from nearby plantations have built a thriving black community. The neighborhood includes a collection of original townhouses, many of which were lost during redevelopment. The United States designated Freedmen’s Town as a National Historic Site in 1985.

Houston is also home to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museumwhich chronicles the first black professional soldiers to serve in the U.S. armies in peacetime, beginning in 1886. Many were descended from formerly enslaved men and Civil War veterans.

The title “Buffalo Soldiers” was used by Native Americans to describe the skills, bravery and tenacity of African Americans. It was a source of pride for black fighters, whose military campaigns included the American Indian Wars, the Spanish–American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War.

Weeksville Heritage Center
The Weeksville Heritage Center will host a Juneteenth Food Festival on June 18-19. (Photo by Brian Major)

Brooklyn, New York

The independent black communities formed in the wake of Juneteenth built on earlier efforts to create safe and independent neighborhoods free from harassment and racial discrimination.

Named for founder James Weeks, Weeksville encompassed part of what is now Brooklyn, NY, Crown Heights.

Weeks and other African-American investors bought property in 1838 to create a community of black landowners. Generations later, in 1968, when ongoing redevelopment threatened to remove the site’s remaining historic homes, a grassroots preservation effort succeeded in preserving several homes.

Hunterfly Road Historic Homes are located along an original Native American trail and later colonial key road. The houses, which have been continuously inhabited, exemplify the self-sufficient way of life of free people of color in the urban North.

On June 18 and 19, the Weeksville Heritage Center will host a Juneteenth Food Festival featuring more than 20 black food vendors offering delicious dishes from African, Caribbean and Latin American countries, as well as several regions of the United States.