What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth (“June” plus “nineteenth”) is celebrated annually on the 19th of June throughout the United States, with varying official recognition. It is commemorated on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865 announcement by Union Army General Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas.
In Texas, slavery had continued as the state experienced no large-scale
fighting or significant presence of Union troops.
Many enslavers from outside the Texas had moved there,
as they viewed it as a safe haven for slavery.
After the war came to a close in the spring of 1865, General Granger’s
arrival in Galveston that June signaled freedom for Texas’s 250,000
enslaved people. Although emancipation didn’t happen overnight
for everyone—in some cases, enslavers withheld the information
until after harvest season—celebrations broke out among newly freed
Black people, and Juneteenth was born.
Kentucky's connections to Juneteenth have grown over time, complicated by the state's historical divisions over enslavement. In fact, the state did not officially participate in the Civil War, even though enslaved people were brought to the state and remained enslaved. Most citizens believe that the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 legally ended slavery; however, the proclamation only applied to states which seceded from the Union and did not apply to Kentucky.
By the time the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in December, 1865, only nine states, Kentucky among them, still clung to the institution of slavery. Illustrative of Kentucky's inconsistent and divided views on enslavement, in 1833 Kentucky had, in fact, passed legislation prohibiting the importation of African slaves into the state for resale south. Some argue that this law, one of the most strict in the nation, was greatly ignored and not enforced.
Some slaves in Kentucky won freedom by joining the army when President Lincoln
declared that any slave joining the Union Army would be given freedom.
Though the Civil War ended in April, 1865,
bondage did not end for approximately 225,000 Kentucky slaves.
The Kentucky General Assembly rejected the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment,
56-18 in the House and 23-10 in the Senate. But finally, in 1976, went on record against slavery -
over 110 years since its enactment. One of 3 African American members
of the Kentucky House, Rep. Mae Street Kidd introduced and worked to pass the ratification.
Communities of formerly enslaved people celebrated freedom in a number of ways,
prior to the holiday we now call Juneteenth. Especially in western Kentucky,
Freedom from slavery was celebrated by many other names:
Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day.
Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, August 8 Day As other states began to commemorate the freedom of all citizens, including formerly enslaved people, communities throughout the Commonwealth followed suit. In 2005, Kentucky's Legislative Research Commission documented that "Emancipation Day" was celebrated in Kentucky cities such as:
~ Allensville on August 8,
~ Bowling Green on June 12, and
~ Covington on September 22.
In fact, these and other communities have records, some dating back to 1868, of "Emancipation Day" celebrations, "August 8 Days," or other public recognition of lifting the bondage of slavery. Although the "August 8 Celebrations" reflected the significant recognition of a turning point for formerly enslaved people, the date did not correspond to Granger's announcement in Texas. Nonetheless, communities, especially in Western Kentucky and Tennessee formulated holidays celebrating freedom from enslavement in August.
On January 10, 1876, Granger, the leader whose Texas announcement initiated Juneteenth celebrations, died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he was serving in command of the District of New Mexico. Granger is buried at Lexington Cemetery in Kentucky. Click on this link to read more about Granger and how this Union Army General came to be connected with Kentucky and why his body was returned to Lexington as his final resting place.
Where has Juneteenth been celebrated in Kentucky?
1865 - 1869
Allensville, KY; 1869. Allensville citizens report that their Emancipation Celebration has been held, on August 8, since 1868. The celebration includes a range of festivities and has been a homecoming for multiple generations of African American families. Historian William H. Wiggins, Jr. described his participation at the 1972 Allensville celebration in O Freedom! Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations.
1870 - 1899
Elizabethtown, KY; 1882. An Elizabethtown celebration was joined by African Americans from southern Illinois. The event is noted as the first recorded Emancipation celebration for southern Illinois. For more see S. K. Cha-Jua, America's first Black town: Brooklyn, Illinois, 1830-1915, p. 104.
1900 - 1949
1950 - 1979
Lynch, KY (Harlan County, KY) Kentucky author William H. Turner, PhD posted: "August 8 was celebrated throughout my youth, up until the early 1970s when the black population had dispersed; the schools integrated, the gatekeepers of such traditions having passed on. The August 8th Celebration was led by men and women of the Masonic lodges & Eastern Star, centered in two churches, mainly, Goode Temple AMEZ and Mt. Sinai. People came from nearby Benham, Cumberland, and Harlan."
1980 - 1989
Northern Kentucky families living near Cincinnati have joined in that city's Juneteenth celebrations since 1986, with an annual festival beginning in 1988.
1990 - 1999
Louisville, KY; 1997. Juneteenth Legacy Theatre.
Beginning in 1997, the Juneteenth Legacy Theatre Company
performed in Louisville, KY, and New York City.
Held the Juneteenth Jamboree, a 3 week annual summer festival
(hosted by Actors Theatre in Louisville).
"Kentucky's Only Professional African American Theatre Company!"
The troupe's mission was "To entertain, to educate, to enrich and
to empower communities through the telling of stories about the
African-American experience in historical and contemporary contexts."
It was announced in 2010 that the Juneteenth Legacy Theatre in Louisville would be ending. For more information contact the Juneteenth Legacy Theatre; K. Neuhauser, "Juneteenth Legacy is closing its curtains," Courier Journal, 05/31/2010, p. D1.
Hopkinsville, KY; June 2020. Juneteenth Day was recognized as a holiday for the first time ever in Hopkinsville and Christian County in June 2020.
Midway, KY; June 2020; Mayor Grayson Vandegrift issued an executive order establishing Juneteenth as an official holiday in the City of Midway. All city offices will be closed each June 19; city employees will have a paid holiday in observance.
Whitesburg, KY; June 2020; celebrated by community organizations.
2001 - 2020
Who has celebrated Juneteenth in Frankfort, KY?
In 2010, citizens in South Frankfort held the 1st Annual Juneteenth Celebration for Frankfort. Later in 2011, the group again organized the "Juneteenth Family Fun in the park!" at Dolly Graham City park on River Street.
Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth As a Family .
Read. Read. Read.
Visit the Paul Sawyier Library Public Library. Ask to see their books, children's and adult, about Juneteenth. Email in advance & ask about Juneteenth books. Use this link to email Diane Dehoney at the Library.
A number of children's books have been published. Here are a few:
~ Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper
~ All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson
~ Juneteenth (On My Own Holidays (Paperback)) by Drew Nelson
Books for adult readers relevant to Juneteenth are numerous. Here is a reading list to give some ideas. Again, check at the Paul Sawyier Public Library (email Diane Dehoney) to see which they might have available.
~ Frankfort & Franklin County, KY:
Visit Frankfort's two of the 43 sites on Kentucky's Slavery & Emancipation History Tour. (Did you know that Kentucky has a trail commemorating the history of emancipation?)
historic Green Hill Cemetery. Frankfort's historically black cemetery
includes the only monument in Kentucky that honors the nearly
25,000 African American Kentuckians who served in the
United States Colored Troops during the American Civil War.
2. The Frankfort Barracks. The Frankfort Barracks (built 1871) in south Frankfort on Shelby Street, were constructed by local master mason Alexander Brawner & leased to the US military from 1871 - 1876.The atrocities that were committed against freedmen & freedwomen of Kentucky during the reconstruction era were readily documented by the Freedmen’s Bureau. Incidents including the stabbing of former United States Colored Troops soldier George Mukes after he attended an African American political meeting in Frankfort in 1872 were all too common, especially after black men obtained the right to vote.
3. Kentucky State University.
Camp Nelson is the site of the former Union army recruiting and training depot which provided the Union army with over 10,000 African-American soldiers, making it the third largest recruiting and training depot for African Americans in the nation. Eight African-American army regiments, known as U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), were organized at Camp Nelson and five additional USCT regiments were stationed there. Reverend John Fee, the founder of Berea College, came to Camp Nelson in 1864 to teach and minister to the refugees at Camp Nelson.
Learn about African American history in Kentucky and the Louisville area at Roots 101:
history in Kentucky, through their website. Learn more in the video to the right.
history and linkages between African American music and Kentucky.
~ Locally in Frankfort and Franklin County ~
~ CITY OF FRANKFORT
~ Contact Frankfort's Mayor and city commissioners and ask that Juneteenth be declared an official holiday in Frankfort. Click on the official's name to send a message directly to that official or phone the number listed by each name:
~ Commissioner Leesa Unger (502)875-8500
~ Other Options which city officials could take:
~ Urge the city to request state action: Request Governor Beshear and the Kentucky legislature to enact legislation making Juneteenth an official state holiday.
~ Urge the city to support national legislation: Would he/she would introduce a resolution, which the city commission could enact, urging our Members of Congress to support legislation which has been proposed to make Juneteenth a national, federally recognized holiday? These are: S. 4019 (116th): Juneteenth National Independence Day Act & H.R. 7232, also titled Juneteenth National Independence Day Act
~ FRANKLIN COUNTY
Contact Franklin County officials (Judge Executive & Magistrates) and ask that Juneteenth be declared an official holiday in Franklin County. Click on the official's name to send a message directly to that official or phone the number listed by each name:
I'm interested in joining with others who are taking action. What are some of the local and statewide groups that have made a decision to take actions regarding Juneteenth as an official state or national holiday?
Kentucky Representative Mae Street Kidd, photo
from Kentucky Center for African American Heritage. Click here to learn more about Kentucky's African American women leaders.