Juneteenth is the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States and has been an African American tradition since June 19, 1865. On that day, in Galveston, Texas, General Gordon Granger issued General Order #3 advising all, that slaves had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment. Upon receipt of this announcement, former slaves in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma began celebrating. An annual celebration of June 19 began on the first anniversary of that day, and the day eventually came to be known as Juneteenth a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth”, the date of freedom’s celebration. Juneteenth legislation has been passed in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
NJOF Modern Juneteenth History
Juneteenth has been an African American tradition since 1865. Economic and cultural forces caused a decline in Juneteenth celebrations beginning in the early 20th century. The Depression forced many blacks off farms and into the cities were employers were less eager to grant leaves to celebrate Juneteenth.
In 1968, Juneteenth received a strong resurgence through Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C. Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor. Many of these attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth celebrations in areas previously absent of such activity.
In 1994, the era of the “Modern Juneteenth Movement” began when a group of Juneteenth leaders from across the country gathered in New Orleans, LA, at Christian Unity Baptist Church, Rev. Dwight Webster, Pastor, to work for greater national recognition of Juneteenth. The historic meeting was convened by Rev. John Mosley, Director of the New Orleans Juneteenth Freedom Celebration. Several national Juneteenth organizations were ignited from this historic gathering including the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF). Shortly prior to this gathering, Juneteenth America, Inc., (JAI) was founded by John Thompson, who organized the first National Juneteenth Convention & Expo, and the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) founded by Ben Haith, the creator of the National Juneteenth Flag. In 1997, through the leadership of Lula Briggs Galloway, President of the NAJL and Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D., Chairman of the NAJL, the U.S. Congress officially passed historic legislation recognizing Juneteenth as “Juneteenth Independence Day” in America. Rev. Dr. Myers returned to Washington, DC in the year 2000, to establish the annual WASHINGTON JUNETEENTH National Holiday Observance and began the campaign to establish Juneteenth Independence Day as a National Day of Observance as NJOF Chairman.
As of 2018, 45 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to officially recognize Juneteenth. The NJOF directly contributed to 42 states legislation. The annual Congressional Juneteenth Reception, hosted by members of Congress, and the National Juneteenth Prayer Breakfast are now Washington D.C. traditions.