History of Juneteenth
"Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19 that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation– which had become official January 1, 1863 . The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865 , and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
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."
The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation . While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former 'masters'–attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go , many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for Black people in America.
Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territories. The celebration of June 19 was coined "Juneteenth" and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.
Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures . As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective , the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing." 1
For more information, check out:
1 JUNETEENTH WORLD WIDE CELEBRATION, www.juneteenth.com/history.htm.