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Juneteenth African American Independence Day: Overview by Stanford Librarians

Juneteenth commemorates the date June 19th, 1865 when enslaved people in Texas finally learned they were free. These resources will teach about this monumental yet overlooked event.

Overview by Stanford Librarians

On June 19, 1865, over two months after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9th, and over two years since President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all enslaved people in the Confederate states, Union Major-General Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, declaring that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free.  Even with the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of military actions, news and reality of freedom had been slow to reach to the farthest corners of the former Confederacy.  Major-General Granger’s General Orders # 3, issued in Galveston, and read and reprinted in a variety of outlets, affirmed this reality.  In the ensuing decades, the day, which was celebrated as Juneteenth (a linguistic blending of “June” and “Nineteenth”) has become a widely celebrated holiday (recognized by the majority of states) and is widely considered the oldest continuous celebration of emancipation. 

As the nation honors and celebrates the Juneteenth holiday, this blog post provides links to resources on the history of Juneteenth available through the Stanford Libraries and beyond.

Essays by Maggi M. Morehouse and Graham Russell Gao Hodges in The Oxford African-American Studies Center provide helpful introductory overviews, as well as bibliographies and suggestions for further reading.

Historian Mitch Kachun’s 2003 monograph Festivals of freedom : memory and meaning in African American emancipation celebrations, 1808-1915, offers a long view of Juneteenth and other celebrations in African American history and memory.  Folklorist William Wiggins Jr.’s pioneering writings on Juneteenth, especially celebrations in Texas, are critical; his essay “Juneteenth: A Red Spot Day on the Texas Calendar,” is available in a 1996 collection titled Juneteenth Texas: Essays in African American Folklore.  Elizabeth Hayes Turner’s essay “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory,” in the edited volume Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas, provides a rich look at the long history of Juneteenth celebrations in Texas, which are enriched by contributions from the Texas State Historical Association and the Galveston Historical Foundation.  Amy Murrell Taylor’s prize-winning 2018 history of wartime emancipation, Embattled Freedom: Journey’s through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps, provides a powerful look at the risks and challenges faced by former slaves as they fled bondage during the conflict.

For ways in which Juneteenth has been celebrated in San Francisco and the Bay area since the mid-20th century, Emily Blanck’s 2019 article in the Western Historical Quarterly "Galveston on San Francisco Bay: Juneteenth in the Fillmore District, 1945–2016” provides an in depth look at ways African American residents of San Francisco commemorated Juneteenth in the postwar era.

For primary source materials, SUL’s rich holdings of digital historical African American newspapers, available through databases such as Readex’s African-American Newspapers (Series 1 and 2)  and titles such as the Chicago DefenderAtlanta Daily World, and Los Angeles Sentinel (as well as many others) available through ProQuest News and Newspapers.   For the Bay Area, Ethnic NewsWatch (ProQuest) holds a substantial run of The Sun-Reporter [San Francisco] for the late 1960s and 1970s, heavily cited by Emily Blanck in her essay above for the Western Historical Quarterly.

For first-hand accounts by African Americans, the Library of Congress has made available numerous transcripts and recordings from the Federal Writers' Project Slave Narratives, conducted with former slaves in the 1930s, including this focused blog post on interviews that contain discussions of emancipation and Juneteenth.  For more recent oral histories, The HistoryMakers archive contains a rich collection of interviews in which Juneteenth is discussed.

For further video, The Root, an African American online magazine, has produced this short documentary on the history of Juneteenth and the spread of its celebration from Texas to other U.S. states.  The Library of Congress has made available programming from the 2015 symposium: The Juneteenth Book Festival Symposium on Black Literature & Literacy.  For the deep ties between the history of African Americans and Juneteenth in Houston, Texas, Houston Public Media produced Juneteenth And The Evolution Of Houston's Emancipation Park, a documentary about Houston’s Emancipation Park, which was purchased by former enslaved African Americans in 1872 to celebrate Juneteenth.  Elizabeth Brumfield, Librarian at John B. Coleman Library at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, has created a rich guide that provides links and information on variety of Juneteenth resources.

From the Congressional Research Service, this CRS Report on Juneteenth provides sample speeches and remarks from the Congressional Record, presidential proclamations and remarks, and selected historical and cultural resources.  Advocating for the recognition of Juneteenth as national holiday, the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation website provides rich resources regarding both the history of Juneteenth and advocacy for Juneteenth as a national holiday.  

Cubberley Education Library holds materials relating to Juneteenth, and African American history and education more broadly, including books for children and subject guides

Thanks to colleagues, Benjamin Lee Stone, Curator for American and British History and Associate Director of Special Collections, Alesia Montgomery, Subject Specialist for Sociology, Psychology & Qualitative Data, James R. Jacobs, U.S. Government Information Librarian, and Kathy KernsHead of Cubberley Education Library and Curator for Education Resources, who helped suggest and compile these valuable resources!