Juneteenth 2004  

 
Tucson Juneteenth Festival Committee

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Tucson's Juneteenth History

Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, is recorded as the oldest African American holiday observance in the United States.  Most Americans are familiar with the tenants of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Emancipation Proclamation – all significant documents in U.S. history exemplifying American’s passion for freedom.  But many do not know that the Emancipation Proclamation, making official the release of all slaves within the rebellious Confederate States on January 1, 1863, did not reach Texas until two and a half years later on June 19, 1865!

Union soldiers, under the direction of General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston two months after the ending of the Civil War to restore order and enforce President Lincoln’s Proclamation.  Standing on the porch of the former Confederate headquarters he read General Order Number 3 which said in part that “ in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free”. As the news circulated, a spontaneous celebration erupted throughout southern slave communities!  Slaves dropped what they were doing leaving hoes in the fields, milk buckets in the stables, dishes in the sink and scattered into the streets of Galveston singing and dancing. Families sought out each other and rejoicing was mingled with thankful prayers to the Almighty God.

In the years to follow, former slaves in Galveston and other southern cities began to gather to celebrate and remember June 19th.  Juneteenth became a freedom day celebration expressing African American pride, solidarity and cultural tradition.  It became tradition to reflect on the suffering endured during slavery and the price paid in the battlefields of the Civil War, to offer up praise and worship to God in the finest tradition of Gospel music and to celebrate with song and food the freedom finally realized on June 19, 1865. 

The Tucson Festival began over 30 years ago after African Americans began to move into the Tucson area forming the distinct “A” Mountain neighborhood.  Morris Doty’s family  brought the idea of the Juneteenth Festival with them from Jacksonville, Texas and Bobby Ray Dixon’s family brought it from Louisiana.  In 1970 the two families put together the first Tucson Juneteenth Festival held at the Vista Del Pueblo Park on San Marcos with free music provided by Baby Owl Foley and his band, Desert Soul.  Today Juneteenth has outgrown the small neighborhood park and is an annual event in the Kennedy Park Festival Area with the sounds of sizzling barbecue, uplifting music, laughing children and joyful greetings between friends and family gathered to enjoy Freedom Day!

More information about the history of Juneteenth and celebrations across the United States can be found on the National Juneteenth website at www.juneteenth.com 

 

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