By Larry Starks

The Tucson Juneteenth Festival (as the name indicates) is a celebration normally in the mid-month of June. However, with COVID-19 regulations and our duty to safe and healthy in Pima County. We have postponed the celebration to take place in the fall of 2020.

Juneteenth is held every year to honor and observe the official emancipation of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had already been in effect since 1863, it wasn’t until two years later that Texas finally announced the abolition of slavery in the state.

On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, General Granger rode into Galveston, Texas with over 1,800 troops and read the Third General Order, which read, “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 and equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

During the Civil War, white planters forcibly moved tens of thousands of slaves to Texas, hoping to keep them in bondage and away from the U.S. Army. Even after General Lee surrendered, Confederate Texans dreamed of sustaining the rebel cause there. June 2, 1865, after the state’s rebel governor had already fled to Mexico, Confederate Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith agreed to surrender the state. For more than two weeks, chaos reigned as people looted the state treasury, and no one was certain who was in charge.

Many African- Americans fled, some across the river to Mexico, which was a less-remembered pathway to freedom in the decades before the Civil War. Others launched strikes or refused to work. But in a state where whites outnumbered slaves more than two-to-one, planters and ranchers did everything in their power to sustain slavery wherever they could.

Ending slavery was not simply a matter of issuing pronouncements. It was about forcing rebels to obey the law. The Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment amounted to a promissory note of freedom. The real work on the ground of ending slavery and defending the rudiments of liberty was done by the freedpeople in collaboration with and backed by the force of the United States Army.

With their freedom in hand, Texas slaves were at an impasse. Do they leave the land that they have known and work for a master that has kept them enslaved for years, or do they leave and celebrate their freedom on their own? Texas freedpeople kept alive the memory of emancipation and Reconstruction in ceremonies that were eventually called Juneteenth, first in 1866, the year after the proclamation, and growing dramatically after an 1867 parade in Austin, Texas.

The festival in Tucson began in the 1970’s by residents that had relocated to Tucson from the South.  According to Valerie Stanley Board President, “African-American families from Texas and Louisiana who moved to Tucson and into the A Mountain area formed the first official Tucson Juneteenth Festival Committed and the first Juneteenth Festival Celebration in 1970.” 

In 2016, Arizona became the 45th state, along with the District of Columbia, to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday.

The event has grown so much, that in 2019 an event was held at the Tucson Community Center. The festival consists of a daylong celebration with local talent playing music for all ages, a basketball tournament, poetry, songs, arts and crafts for children, information booths, and retail sales of African American artifacts, jewelry, pictures, voter registration, dance performances, and of course plenty of food. BBQ ribs and chicken, fried catfish, hamburgers, hot dogs, and mac-n-cheese, to name a few. The festival is fun for families of all ethnic backgrounds. Bring the family and have fun. This year’s celebration will be announced in the coming weeks and will be in the fall, returning to the roots of being outside in the park. “In addition to honoring the sacrifices made to establish the end of slavery more than 150 years ago, Juneteenth will highlight the ongoing fights to end all kinds of discrimination.”

If you would like more information, would like to Volunteer or be a part of the festival contact: Valerie Stanley, Board President at or find us on FaceBook at Tucson Juneteenth Festival and Twitter @tusjuneteeth

About author View all posts

Guest Author