In 1865, enslaved Africans Americans on Galveston Island, Texas had been declared free 2 ½ years earlier but had not been notified. There are conflicting explanations for the delay of the news. Among the possible reasons that have been told is that plantation owners withheld the news and that federal troops allowed the delay so that slave owners could reap one final cotton harvest even after the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced on January 1, 1863. It has been said that the original messenger on his way to Texas to deliver the news was murdered.
As the news spread slowly, by 1865 there was an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas. On June 18, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived on Galveston Island on behalf of the federal government and on June 19, he announced the total emancipation of slaves. This news was met across the land with spontaneous celebrations, which is what occurred in Galveston. Since this occurred on June 19, the next year the Freedmen organized the first of what became an annual celebration of Juneteenth in Texas. It is now celebrated around the country and it is officially observed in 43 states. Utica’s first Juneteenth celebration occurred in 1996 under the mantle of the former community organization, Corn Hill People United.