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history of juneteenth

 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 heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."


Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865,  the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which officially ended slavery on January 1, 1863. 


Attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in Texas slave masters receiving this important news have yielded several versions. One story is a messenger was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom.  Another is the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to keep the labor force on the plantations. Still another story 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. Whatever the reasons, slavery remained in Texas well beyond what was law. 


Reactions to the profound news of freedom ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. Many slaves lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, but many left before the words were barely off the lips of their former masters.   North was a logical destination and represented true freedom for many. Others wanted to reach family members in neighboring states and went into Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. 


Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and challenges.   However, recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities later served as motivation and a release from the growing pressures in the new territories. The celebration of June 19th was coined "Juneteenth" and grew with more participation from descendants. It was a time for reassuring each other, praying , and 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. 


On January 1, 1980, Texas blazed the trail and JUNETEENTH became an official state holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. Edwards and others from the grassroots level to those on state and national levels tirelessly sought to spread the observance of Juneteenth all across America. In 2016, Ms. Opal Lee, an 89 year old retired teacher and activist in the movement to make Juneteenth a federally-recognized holiday , walked from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C. to bring attention to the matter. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, with Ms. Opal Lee by his side. 


Today, Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebration, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and planning for the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities, and religion are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the condition and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.


juneteenth now

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