Juneteenth Photographs from the Earliest Celebrations

Juneteenth officially became a National Holiday in June 2021, but it has been celebrated for more than a century.

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Image via Portal of Texas History

On June 19, 2021, the United States will formally recognize Juneteeth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery, for the first time in the country’s history. In his declaration naming Juneteenth an official national holiday, U.S. President Joe Biden wrote:

On June 19, 1865 — nearly nine decades after our Nation’s founding, and more than 2 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received word that they were free from bondage. As those who were formerly enslaved were recognized for the first time as citizens, Black Americans came to commemorate Juneteenth with celebrations across the country, building new lives and a new tradition that we honor today. In its celebration of freedom, Juneteenth is a day that should be recognized by all Americans. And that is why I am proud to have consecrated Juneteenth as our newest national holiday.

While 2021 will be the first time that Juneteenth is recognized as a national holiday, Juneteenth celebrations have been going on for more than a century. Here are some photographs from those early Juneteenth celebrations. 

The above photograph from the Houston Public Library archives was taken in the 1880s and shows a Juneteenth celebration in the city’s Emancipation Park: “A group photograph of thirty-one people at a Juneteenth Celebration in Emancipation Park in Houston’s Fourth Ward. Reverend Jack Yates is pictured on the left and Sallie Yates is pictured in the center toward the front in a black outfit.”

The above photo was taken in Virginia in 1888 during an Emancipation Day celebration. Image available via Virginia Commonwealth University.

The photo above was taken by Mrs. Charles Stephenson (Grace Murray) on June 19, 1900 and shows a band playing for a Juneteenth celebration. The image is available via the Austin History Center General Collection Photographs where it is presented with the caption: “Photograph of African-American band at Emancipation Day celebration, June 19, 1900, held in ‘East Woods’ on East 24th Street in Austin. Mrs. Grace Murray Stephenson kept a diary of the day’s events, which she later sold to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published a full-page feature on it.

The above photograph shows some of the attendees who saw the aforementioned band play at this 1900 Juneteenth celebration. Image via the Portal of Texas History.

The photo above, taken between 1895 and 1905, shows “two women wearing black dresses and hats, in a buggy decorated with flowers for the annual Juneteenth Celebration that is parked on a street in front of a house,” according to the Houston Public Library.  

This photograph shows the Spirit of Charity Art Club Juneteenth Parade Float in 1906. The Houston Public Library writes: “There are six African American women and two African American girls on the float. There is a sign on the float that reads, ‘The Spirit of Charity 1906 Art Club.’ The float is hitched to two horses. There are trees and people in the background.”

The photograph above shows “Mr. D.N. Leathers Sr., Walter Leathers’ Father Celebrating Juneteenth” in 1913 in Corpus Christi, Texas, according to Southern Methodist University.

Lastly, this picture also comes from Southern Methodist University and provides a wider view of this Juneteenth celebration. The details are difficult to make out, but you can see a crowd, wagons, a stage, and an American flag at this Emancipation Day celebration.