Juneteenth History

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the enslavement of African people ended in states controlled by the Confederacy. It wasn’t until the 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865 that slavery was finally abolished in the United States. However, for many Black Americans, life remained the same. Enslaved people in border states were not freed, and for all practical purposes, neither were those in the Confederate states until the Union army entered.

Many enslaved Black Americans had no idea that President Lincoln had even signed the Emancipation Proclamation. In Texas, one of the last states to rely financially on enslaved human beings, more than two-and-a-half years passed before enslaved people received their freedom.

Juneteenth commemorates the date of June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to demand that enslaved people there be set free. Until that time, the Union army had not had sufficient strength to enforce the emancipation of the approximately 250,000 Black people enslaved in Texas, the most distant such state.1 When General Granger arrived, he read General Order No. 3 to Galveston residents:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages.”

Following Granger’s announcement, the formerly enslaved Black Americans broke into celebration. Today, that celebration is said to be the oldest Black American holiday. The newly emancipated people celebrated their freedom and exercised their rights by buying land across Texas, namely Emancipation Park in Houston, Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia, and Emancipation Park in Austin.

Becoming a Federal Holiday

In 1996, the first federal legislation to recognize “Juneteenth Independence Day” was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.J. Res. 195, sponsored by Barbara-Rose Collins (D-MI). In 1997, Congress recognized the day through Senate Joint Resolution 11 and House Joint Resolution 56. In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed Senate Resolution 175, acknowledging Lula Briggs Galloway (late president of the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage), who “successfully worked to bring national recognition to Juneteenth Independence Day”, and the continued leadership of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.

In the 2000s and 2010s, activists continued a long process to push Congress towards official recognition of Juneteenth. Organizations such as the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation sought a Congressional designation of Juneteenth as a National Day of Observance. By 2016, 45 states were recognizing the occasion. Activist Opal Lee, often referred to as the “grandmother of Juneteenth”, campaigned for decades to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, leading walks in many states to promote the idea. In 2016–17 at the age of 89, she led a symbolic walk from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington D.C. to advocate for the federal holiday. When it was officially made a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, she was standing beside President Joe Biden as he signed the bill.

Juneteenth became one of five date-specific federal holidays along with New Year’s Day (January 1), Independence Day (July 4), Veterans Day (November 11), and Christmas Day (December 25). Juneteenth is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared a holiday in 1986. Juneteenth also falls within the statutory Honor America Days period, which lasts for 21 days from Flag Day (June 14) to Independence Day (July 4).

President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, June 17, 2021

Juneteenth in Lawton, Oklahoma

While we are not aware of any documented history of Juneteenth in Lawton, we are informed of Juneteenth being held in Elmer Thomas Park in the early 90’s. Information indicates that the event moved to the Patterson Center in 1994. Some of the early citizen participation included Mrs. Barbara Ellis, Mr. Chick Ellis, Mrs. Addie Mae, Mrs. Jean Coulier, Mrs. Delores Raphel, Councilman Stanley Haywood, and Mrs. Alicia Mitchell.

Our Founder

Albert Johnson, Sr. had a passion for education and for people, dedicating his life’s work to advocate for those in need. He was there for those during the desegregation of Lawton Public Schools and changed lives by giving hope, opportunity, and encouragement to wherever he went.

Johnson Sr. offered his time outside regular work hours to provide counseling services, transportation, and tutoring for our community. He established the Young Man’s Mentoring Program (YMMP) which focused on young men and providing them with skills and opportunities for their future.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Stan Booker proclaimed April 25, 2023, to be designated as a day of Recognition for the Life of Service of Albert Johnson, Sr. His son, Albert Johnson, Jr., accepted the proclamation for his late father who passed away on April 25, 2022.

The proclamation acknowledges Johnson Sr. as a decorated member of Lawton. He has received many honors, such as the Cameron Campus Ministry “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award”, the Oklahoma School Public Relations Association’s Partner of Excellence Award, the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Youth Mentor Award, and so many more.

His efforts and contributions to the improvement of Lawton citizens has left a mark on the City and generations to come.

The City of Lawton encourages citizens to live by the words of Mr. Johnson: “If a task is once begun, never leave until it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”

Mr. Albert Johnson, Sr. (right) is the founder, organizer, and visionary of the Lawton Fort Sill City-Wide Juneteenth Celebration.

Albert Johnson, Jr., accepting the proclamation for his late father.