It’s hard to talk about Juneteenth in Houston without talking about Emancipation Park in the city’s Third Ward community. The two have had a special connection since the park was established 147 years ago to commemorate the day many slaves in Texas learned that they were free.
Slavery officially ended in the United States when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but it wasn’t until 1865 that the abolition of slavery was recognized in Texas.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger standing on the balcony of Ashton Villa in Galveston read aloud the proclamation that “all slaves are free,” two years after the nation had already declared an end to slavery. The following year freedmen organized to celebrate the first of what would eventually become annual Juneteenth festivities to commemorate the end of slavery in Texas.
However, celebrating freedom was not easy because the now freed men and women were barred from using Houston’s public parks to host Juneteenth events. So, in 1872, four successful African-American ministers and businessmen led the effort to create Emancipation Park. Richard Allen, Rev. John Henry “Jack” Yates, Rev. Elias Dibble and Richard Brock paid $1000 to transform an empty lot into park space in honor of Juneteenth.
Unfortunately, the founders could not raise enough money to keep the 10 acres of parkland open. The financial struggle for payments and taxes resulted in the property being foreclosed on, but in 1916 the city of Houston was appointed as trustee and took over ownership, making Emancipation Park, the oldest public park in Houston.
In 1980, Texas became the first state to establish Juneteenth as an official state holiday. Twenty-seven years later, community concern and interest grew in renovating the park, which had fallen into disrepair. By 2013, the park, co-managed with the city by the Emancipation Park Conservancy, held a groundbreaking for a $33-million renovation.
Phillip Freelon, noted for leading the design team for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C was selected as the architect to head the renovation of Emancipation Park, which was completed in 2017.
Juneteenth and Emancipation Park are part of America’s story of struggle and triumph. Through the years, Juneteenth has become a celebration of rich traditions and customs that reflect the journey of African-Americans from slaves to free men and women. Emancipation Park from its inception has been at the center of Houston’s Juneteenth celebrations with live entertainment, music, speakers, art, and food that have created a legacy for generations of families to come together and preserve history.
You can be part of the 2019 Juneteenth celebration at Emancipation park or other locations throughout the greater Houston area. For more information and details, click here: Juneteenth Events 2019.