While there are now Juneteenth celebrations nationwide, the event originated in Texas and has been celebrated in Houston since the 1860’s. It commemorates a Union officer’s official announcement – in Galveston, on June 19, 1865 – that the Civil War was over and all slaves were free. The declaration was made two months after the war ended, and two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. There were approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas at the time. State Representative Al Edwards, from Houston, sponsored the bill in 1979 that made Juneteenth an official state holiday.
Juneteenth became so significant in black communities in Texas that it inspired many to purchase and reserve a plot of land as a public park and celebration grounds. Often such parks were named Emancipation Park. In Houston, in 1872, Rev. Jack Yates organized a group that raised $1000 to purchase a ten-acre site in the city’s Third Ward. Houston’s Emancipation Park survives to this day. Historically, Juneteenth festivals have featured barbecue and strawberry soda.