Juneteenth Celebrated as Massachusetts State Holiday for the First Time

Terianne Falcone

Amherst commemorates events in Galveston, Texas, in June of 1865

The Church where Galveston slaves first learned they were free.Galveston Historical Society

AMHERST, MA The enslaved in Galveston did not learn the Civil War was over, and they were free until an announcement was made at the Methodist Episcopal Church South. It was a sweltering Monday, June 19, 1865.

The news came more than two years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

Juneteenth is this Saturday, June 19, 2021

It is being officially celebrated as a state holiday in Massachusetts for the first time.

Last year, on July 24th, Gov. Baker signed a bill officially creating Juneteenth (June 19th) as an annual state holiday in Massachusetts. This designation would "recognize the continued need to ensure racial freedom and equality."

In 1980, Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. Most states have since given Juneteenth official state holiday status, with the three exceptions being North Dakota, South Dakota, and Hawaii.

The History: Galveston, Texas

As schoolchildren, many of us learned slavery "ended" on September 22, 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It became effective on January 1, 1863, declaring that enslaved persons in the Confederate States were now free.

In reality, however, emancipation came at different times to different places in the South.

It's poetic that Texas was the first state to acknowledge June 19th as a state holiday because the historical event that Juneteenth acknowledges happened in Texas on a Monday morning, June 19, 1865.

On that day, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. He came to command the more than 2,000 federal troops brought in to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

Granger's men were instructed to read his order at several landmarks to launch their campaign to enforce the new laws against slavery. They marched throughout Galveston to read the pronouncement first at Union Army Headquarters at the Osterman Building. Then they moved on to the 1861 Customs House and Courthouse before finally reaching the Methodist Episcopal Church South, a primarily Black church, on Broadway. The order informed all Texans that following a Proclamation from the United States Executive all slaves were free.

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, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere. -- By order of Major General Granger
Newspaper announcement of Granger's orderGalveston Historical Society

During the Civil War, many slave-holders had moved to Texas to escape the fighting and continue their way of life, which included slaves. This migration swelled the enslaved population to an estimated 250,000 in Texas by 1865. Due to Texas' relative geographical isolation, the news had not spread to the blacks in Texas.

Juneteenth Activities in Amherst

The Town of Amherst, Massachusetts, will celebrate Juneteenth officially for the first time. A daylong event spread over four locations: West Cemetery in Amherst Center (map below), Bangs Center Courtyard, Amherst Town Common, and at The Mill District in North Amherst.

The day begins at West Cemetery Amherst where residents Christopher, John, Henry, James, and Charles Thompson are buried. The four brothers served the 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts 5th Cavalry. They were among the soldiers who'd gone to Texas for the liberation with Granger. Here are the timings:

Tribute to our Soldiers 10:00 am at the West Cemetery in Amherst Center

Commemoration and Civil War Tablet Exhibit 11:00 am at the Bangs Center Courtyard (70 Boltwood Walk)

Community Jubilee 1:00 pm on the Amherst Town Common with entertainment and food available for purchase from local vendors.

Sunset Reception 6:00 pm at The Mill District in North Amherst featuring an artist collective and fashion show

Make a point to see chalk sidewalk artwork by Marita Banda in front of the Town Hall.

There will be a fashion show at the Mill District early evening activity featuring African American artists, milliner Anika Lopes, and clothing designer Richie Richardson. On display will also be the artwork of adornment designer Kathleen Anderson. Anika Lopes' hats will be part of the grand opening of Hannah's Local Art Gallery on Juneteenth 6 to 8 pm.

Of course, all relevant COVID-19 protocols and guidelines will be followed as given by the State of Massachusetts.

Juneteenth Celebration AmherstAmherst Juneteenth Committee

West Cemetery, where events will begin at 10:00 am. More info here.

Location of West CemeteryScreenshot by author

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I've moved back to this area after living abroad for 15 years. Both the landscape and the people are beautiful. People are kind to each other here in Northampton, MA. Thus, as I get reacquainted and go see all the cool stuff, I shall share with you! And, I have fun stories from abroad!

Northampton, MA

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