Juneteenth commemorates the day — June 19, 1865 — when the last enslaved people were finally emancipated in the United States.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery across the nation, it did capture the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and is said to have fundamentally transformed the character of the war.
After Jan. 1, 1863, every advance of union troops expanded the domain of freedom.
Still, it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — more than two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered and more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued — that word reached Texas, the most remote slave state, when U.S. General Gordon Granger stood on Texas soil and read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
For more stories and historical records and photographs, visit the Library of Congress’ Juneteenth exhibit here.
To view an actual copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, digitized by the National Archives, click here.
Celebrate Juneteenth with area and local events:
Sunday, June 13
A Soft Knock on the Door: The Abolition Movement in Peoria
The Peoria Historical Society will present “A Soft Knock on the Door: The Abolition Movement in Peoria” at 2 p.m., June 13 in the backyard garden at Pettengill-Morron House Museum, 1212 W. Moss Ave. Seating will be provided.
The presentation will explore the Underground Railroad in Peoria and Peorians’ efforts to end slavery. It’s being held, in part, to commemorate Juneteenth, the holiday that observes the ending of slavery in the United States. Visit the Peoria Historical Society’s website for more information and tickets.
Thursday, June 17
Pathways to Freedom — The Underground Railroad and Illinois Freedom Project
Free, virtual presentation by The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.
Join Deanda Johnson and Tim Townsend for a conversation with Dr. Jacob K. Friefeld, ALPLM Illinois and Midwest Studies Historian.
Johnson is the Midwest Regional Manager of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and Townsend is the Historian at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and Project Coordinator for the Illinois Freedom Project. They’ll share knowledge about the Underground Railroad as well as the broader freedom movement in Illinois.
To watch this free virtual program, just go to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Facebook page at the appointed time and scroll to the post highlighting the live event. Once you’re there, simply click on the image and watch the live video stream. You’ll also have an opportunity to ask questions during the conversation.
Saturday, June 19
The Heritage Ensemble will perform a virtual concert in celebration of Juneteenth at 7:30 p.m. on the group’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Find more information at www.heritageensemble.com
Saturday June 19
Judy Page will perform recitations, spoken word poetry and music from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Contemporary Art Center, 305 SW Water St.
This is a free event with open seating.
Saturday, June 19
Peoria’s Juneteenth Fest
Free COVID vaccines, live music and more will be part of Peoria’s Juneteenth Fest held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at John Gwynn Park near the Carver Community Center, 710 W. Percy Baker Jr. Ave.