What is Juneteenth!
It is the name for a holiday celebrating June 19, 1865, the day when Union soldiers arrived in Texas and spread the word that President Lincoln had delivered his Emancipation Proclamation. News traveled so slowly in those days that Texas did not hear of Lincoln’s Proclamation, which he gave on January 1, 1863, until more than two years after it was issued!
The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Thus, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.
Although Juneteenth has been informally celebrated each year since 1865, it wasn’t until June 3, 1979, that Texas became the first state to proclaim Emancipation Day (Juneteenth) an official state holiday. But it is much more than a holiday. Juneteenth has become a day for African Americans to celebrate their freedom, culture, and achievements. It is a day for all Americans to celebrate African American history and rejoice in their freedom.
Since 1993 the City of Edinburg, Texas has observed Juneteenth in the Rio Grande Valley with a memorial service honoring those buried in the “Black Cemetery,” Restlawn.
Located in the northwest corner of the Hillcrest Cemetery at 1701 E. Richardson Road Restlawn is filled with stories that have never been told, of many African Americans who wanted nothing more than freedom and came to the Rio Grande Valley because it was a safe haven.
The founder of Juneteenth in the Rio Grande Valley was Lewis Callis who is buried in Restlawn. More recently, the Juneteenth celebration has been organized by a committee of citizens.
In 2019, this committee added the City of McAllen as a celebration site.
In 2020, the newly formed nonprofit Village in the Valley (ViVa) became a co-host of the event.
The goal is to add Juneteenth celebrations across the lower and upper Rio Grande Valley.