Installment #25: Juneteenth
On June 19, 1865, the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas. Once there, they proceeded to announce that the American Civil War had ended and that slavery was now abolished in the United States, including the territory of Texas. Major general Gordon Granger, who was in charge of the Union soldiers, gave orders for General Order No. 3, which stated in part, "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 between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."
The day of this executive order, a day now known as Juneteenth, came some two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. This document stated that as of January 1, 1863, all enslaved people in the states currently engaged in rebellion against the Union shall be free. Why did it take so long for blacks in the area to receive this information?
For one thing, there was a lack of Union Army presence in Texas during the middle of the war which made the proclamation difficult to enforce. Some historians say that the lapse in time may have been due to the fact that news traveled much slower during this particular time period. Others believe that Texas slave holders purposely withheld the knowledge for their own benefit. As a self-proclaimed historian, I believe that there are definitely possibilities in all of these variables.
In any case, the Emancipation Proclamation, the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, VA in April, 1865, and the arrival of Union troops in Galveston, effectively ended the Civil War and freed more than 250,000 formerly enslaved black people who previously had no idea that they were free. Despite the order for the newly freed individuals to stay where they were and continue to work for their former masters, many of them immediately left Texas. Some of them went to nearby states to search for family members that may have been shipped there during slavery. Others headed north in the country's first post-war great migration.
I don't remember learning about Juneteenth in grade school. I have always been an avid reader of history and I read a lot about it on my own in college. It is the longest-running holiday celebrating and remembering the freedom of African American people. My people. It is considered by many blacks to be our Independence Day. Many states considered Juneteenth a state holiday, especially in places like Texas and Louisiana. But on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation officially making Juneteenth a federal holiday. I say, let's keep the racial reckoning and awakening happening. It's the only way, I think, that this nation can begin to heal from it's longest-running pandemic. Racism!