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On Friday June 19 and Saturday June 20th we will be recognizing the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.
More than two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1865 Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and took over the state government and enforced the Emancipation Proclamation. This freed more than 250,000 slaves. That December in 1865, slavery was formally abolished in the United States with the adoption of the 13th Amendment. June 19, Juneteenth, became an official holiday in Texas in 1979 and is officially recognized across 45 States as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day.
Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or none of these versions could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question. Whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.
The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation.
General Order Number 3
One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:
“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”