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Juneteenth 2024

by Mary Anderson on 2024-06-16T07:00:00-05:00 | 0 Comments

A close up of a General Order No. 3, June 19, 1865 (NAID 182778372)On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, with a full complement of African American U.S. soldiers to enforce General Order No. 3: “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 therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed the slaves in the Confederate states a year and a half earlier, and in areas heavily occupied by Union troops this was enforced. However, Texas was set apart from much of the focus of the war and had little Union presence. This made it a refuge for slaveholders looking to escape the reach of the emancipation order. It is estimated there were about 250,000 enslaved people in Texas kept unaware of their newly issued freedom.

Naturally, General Order No. 3 was met with reluctance by many slaveholders, but most began to release their slaves during the latter months of 1865. Many of the former slaves moved to the larger cities in Texas and established “Freedman’s Towns,” communities of free Blacks founded across the South from 1865 to 1930.

A year after General Order No. 3 was announced in Galveston, the freedmen of the community organized the first commemoration of emancipation in Texas, naming it Jubilee Day. This was not only a celebration of freedom but also a means to inform the Black community about voting. Celebrations continued annually. However, by the end of the century and beginning into the 20th century, the resurgence of white supremacy in the South and the enactment of Jim Crow laws led many Blacks to move north and west in hopes of finding better jobs and escape the racial oppression. This helped spread the tradition of Juneteenth beyond Texas.

Book cover of Juneteenth: The Story Behind the Celebration by  Edward T. Cotham Jr. Celebrations, nevertheless, remained primarily grassroots efforts and were limited to the Black community. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for white people to prevent public celebrations. Still, some black leaders found creative solutions. For example, in 1872, land was purchased in Houston for the purpose of Juneteenth celebrations and named Emancipation Park, a name it still holds today.

Juneteenth celebration became more widespread during the Civil Rights Movement as activists connected their current efforts to the struggles of emancipation. In the early 1970s, Juneteenth celebrations began to emerge in major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and Minneapolis.  In 1979 Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. In June 2021, Congress passed a resolution establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday; President Biden signed it into law on June 17, 2021.

The event Juneteenth commemorates is both actual and aspirational. Much progress has been made, but the promise of freedom and equality declared in General Order No. 3 has yet to be fully realized and is something we continue to strive toward as a nation. The Library has great resources that can aid in these efforts. Check out some of our books on antiracisminclusion, and equity.

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