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Entering the Heart of Juneteenth

Nifa Author
Larachelle Samuel-Smith, Internal Communications Manager

The Galveston Downtown Cultural Arts District – the very heart of this coastal resort city and port in my native Texas – hosts a surplus of museums, art galleries and historic architecture that takes my breath away, especially for me, an American descendant of enslaved persons.

The Galveston Downtown Cultural Arts District hosts a surplus of museums, art galleries and historic architecture. Image provided by Dr. Samuel-Smith.
The Galveston Downtown Cultural Arts District hosts a surplus of museums, art galleries and historic architecture. Image provided by Dr. Samuel-Smith. 

This is where I can come to commemorate Juneteenth – the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery, declared a National Holiday by President Joe Biden in 2021.

The 5,000-square-foot mural titled “Absolute Equality,” which covers a three-story building, is around the corner, as well as a three-story sculpted trumpet on Galveston Square.

The origin of the Juneteenth holiday might be unfamiliar to many in other parts of America but those students, faculty, researchers and Extension staff from the 1890 Land-grant University community know it well, as many are beneficiaries like myself to the educational opportunities that ensued at the 19 institutions in the southern region. 

The new national holiday and mural is a profound and appropriate commemoration of positive change for our country. It reflects National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s priorities for the future to advance racial justice, equity and opportunity, providing support and strengthening relationships to continuously progress and build back better.

The 5,000-square-foot mural titled “Absolute Equality,” which covers a three-story building, is around the corner, as well as a three-story sculpted trumpet on Galveston Square. Image provided by Dr. Samuel-Smith.
The 5,000-square-foot mural titled “Absolute Equality,” which covers a three-story building, depicts different moments and figures in history who played an important role in Juneteenth. Image provided by Dr. Samuel-Smith. 

When President Biden signed into law a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday last year, it marked the first additional federal holiday since 1983, when Martin Luther King Day was designated. This year, Juneteenth falls on Sunday, June 19. Federal employees will observe the holiday on Monday, June 20.

  • President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 “…all persons held as slaves within any state in rebellion against the United States shall be then, henceforth, and forever free, which is to come into effect of the 1st day of January 1863.”
  • However, it would take the Civil War (650,000 deaths) and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to end the brutal institution of African American slavery.
  • General George Granger entered Galveston on June 19, 1865, fully two years after the Proclamation was signed, notifying Blacks in Texas of their freedom.

Photo: Part of the 5,000-square-foot mural in the Galveston Downtown Cultural Arts District includes former President Lincoln holding a set of broken shackles -- faces the spot where General Order No. 3 was signed on June 19, 1865, freeing the last enslaved people months after the Civil War ended. Image provided by Dr. Samuel-Smith. 

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