Juneteenth, Freedom Day, Emancipation, or African American Independence Day is celebrated on June 19th. Juneteenth marks the day when the last slave in the United States was finally declared and set free after the Civil War had ended.
Although Abraham Lincoln signed the famous Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it was two and a half years, on June 19, 1865, before the slaves were freed in Texas.
There are different versions of the story as to why it took Texas so long to free its slaves. One story is that the messenger who was sent to carry the news to Texas never made it. He was murdered in route. Others say the news was deliberately withheld in order to keep the slave labor on the plantations. Others say it was merely a desire for “one more” harvest.
In either case, whether or what they really knew, at the time Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation there were not enough troops in Texas to enforce it as law. The landowners had a financial interest in keeping them, and the slaves were not freed until Major General Gordon Granger, landed on the shores of Galveston, and personally delivered the news.
He read what came to be known as General Orders, Number 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 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 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.” Texas State Library and Archives Commission,
It was on this day and with this proclamation on June 19, 1865, that the exodus of former slaves from the plantations and their lives of captivity began. Juneteenth is African American Independence Day.
For more information:
- Juneteenth Website
- Africans in America — From PBS
- Magic Stream Holiday Page
This article is part of the Ethnic Communities Series by Regina Garson. Your comments and suggestions are welcome. Subscribe to this feed and get an email update each time a new article is published. Copyright 2010 Regina Garson. All rights reserved.