Juneteenth has been celebrated in Bastrop County for generations.
The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln and went into effect on January 1, 1863. Slaves were freed in all states that seceded from the Union, and all other slaves outside of these states were freed by legislation and constitutional amendments. Slave owners in Texas, as well as the state government, ignored the proclamation.
The slaves in Texas did not receive freedom until June 19, 1865 when Major-General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston and sent out Union troops across the state to enforce the law. Although freedom was slow in coming to the state, when slaves were finally given their freedom, it was a glorious day and Texas has not been the same since.
African-Americans celebrated the occasion with great pride and patriotism. It was almost like there were two days of freedom for black Texans: June 19 and July 4. There were picnics, recreational sporting events, rodeos, church gatherings, parades and an observance of our rich history and accomplishments.
Attitudes began to change in the 1950’s when a new mood was established with a quest for integration of black Americans into the mainstream of American life. Complete civil rights became the issue, and the once-grand celebrations were almost a source of shame and embarrassment. But that all changed as activists began to seek legislation that would refocus the meaning of Juneteenth. In 1979, Texas became the first state to pass a bill making Emancipation Proclamation Day an official state holiday.
Bastrop County celebrations continued in the traditional sense until 1987, when a group of volunteers organized the Bastrop Juneteenth Celebration. It brought together participants from Bastrop, Smithville, Elgin and all the rural communities to formally celebrate the holiday. Everyone gathered in downtown Bastrop for a series of events, and family and school reunions were also held.
This continued until 1999, when Elgin and Smithville established their own organizations and events, and the dates were set so they could be attended by everyone, even those who wanted to participate in Austin’s celebrations. This gave multiple opportunities for the community to observe Juneteenth.
Somewhere along the way, Smithville discontinued their event but continues to participate in the celebrations in Elgin and Bastrop. This year marks the 32nd year for Bastrop and the 20th anniversary for Elgin.