What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth (short for June 19th) is a celebration of freedom. It commemorates the day in 1865 on which military forces arrived in Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation’s requirement that Confederate states stop engaging in slavery. This was more than two years after President Lincoln issued the proclamation, and some months before slavery was outlawed nation-wide by the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” Union General Gordon Granger told the people of Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. “ 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 holiday began the following year as “Jubilee Day,” and was first recognized by the state of Texas in 1979. As formerly enslaved people and their descendants left Texas for other parts of the country, Juneteenth celebrations spread with them. 

According to Juneteenth Oregon, these celebrations first came to Oregon in 1945, with Kaiser Shipyard worker Clara Peoples. She was surprised to learn that her coworkers were unaware of the holiday. Peoples later founded the Juneteenth Oregon Celebration and helped initiate Portland’s annual celebration in 1972. 

Racism in Oregon

Although Oregon was not a part of the Confederacy and did not permit slavery, the state has a long history of hostility toward Black Oregonians and other people of color. For example:

  • Oregon passed its first law banning Black people in 1844 and was the only state to enter the union with a racial exclusion law on the books. Black people were not allowed to live in Oregon at the time of its founding. This exclusion was backed by the threat of violence -- the penalty included up to 39 public lashes every 6 months until they left the state. 

  • In 1921, the Ku Klux Klan opened its Oregon chapter, which was believed at the time to have the most members per capita of any chapter. The KKK influenced elected officials across the state.

  • In Bend, KKK chief officer E.D. Gilson was elected Mayor of Bend and served from 1921 to 1922.

  • In July 1923, the Bend KKK is believed to have burned a cross at the summit of Pilot Butte. The Bulletin reported at the time: “It shone for several minutes, then collapsed into a single blaze and died out.” They wrote that the demonstration was credited to the KKK and that a car full of white clad figures was seen headed toward the butte that evening by police. 

  • In September 1923, the Bend KKK held another gathering atop Pilot Butte, after parading through Bend with an “electrically lighted cross” and an American flag.

  • Bend also saw opposition to the KKK, which was channeling its anti-immigrant views into opposing Catholics as well. This included an in-person address by Father Luke Sheehan at a gathering of the Ku Klux Klan at Liberty Theater and multiple editorials published in The Bulletin.

In 2020, as protests against racism and police brutality overlap with the holiday, more people are learning about Juneteenth and the history of racism in the United States as well as in Oregon. 



Check out these opportunities to celebrate emancipation, learn the history, and reflect on what it means to be free. 


Social Justice Book Club: So You Want to Talk About Race
Fridays at noon, starting June 19

Click HERE to learn more.

Juneteenth event with Gloria Brown, author of Black Woman in Green
Friday, June 19, 2-2:45 pm

Join Oregon State University Press for a Juneteenth conversation with Gloria Brown, the first African American woman forest supervisor in the U.S. Forest Service and author of the new book, Black Woman in Green: Gloria Brown and the Unmarked Trail to Forest Service Leadership. Gloria will share her experiences as a black woman in the rural West and offer strategies for overcoming systemic racism in the workplace. Moderated by Kim Hogeland, acquisitions editor at OSU Press.

Click HERE to register.


Juneteenth Peaceful Protest/Kick Back
June 19, noon-5 pm
Drake Park, Bend

Click HERE to learn more. 

Take the Butte Back March
June 19, 5-7 pm
Pilot Butte, Bend

Click HERE to learn more.


Darkness to Light, Education, Notables and Sacred Places Lecture
June 19, noon-1 pm

Click HERE to learn more.

Juneteenth Oregon 2020 Celebration
June 20, 9 am-5 pm

Click HERE to learn more


Click on the links below to learn more about Juneteenth and the history of racism in Oregon and the United States.

What is Juneteenth? (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah)

Father Luke and the KKK in Bend (Deschutes Historical Museum)

How Oregon’s Racist History Can Sharpen Our Sense of Justice Right Now (Walidah Imarisha in Portland Monthly)

Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? (video of Walidah Imarisha)