June 19, 2020
On Sept. 22, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation Order which became effective Jan. 1, 1863. This in itself did not end slavery as the Congress had to pass a constitutional amendment. The 13th Constitutional Amendment that abolished the institution of slavery in the United States did not pass Congress until Jan. 31, 1865. This took three long years from the issuance of Present Lincoln’s Executive Order of Emancipation for Congress to act on it.
On June 19, 1865 the news finally reached Galveston, Texas by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, who was the appointed Union Army Commander of the District of Texas. Texas had been a holdout for the Confederation with many people moving there to avoid the Union Army. The following order was read publicly by Granger to the people of Galveston, Texas.
“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.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865
When Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued the above order, he had no idea that, in establishing the Union Army’s authority over the people of Texas, he was also establishing the basis for a day of celebration for the finally freed slaves.
The newly “freed” black men and women of Texas, with the aid of the Freedmen’s Bureau which did not arrive until September 1865 now had a date to rally around. They transformed this date to their own celebration one year later (1866) calling it “Juneteenth.”
In 1979 Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Rep. Al Edwards of Houston who led the movement, is often referred to as “the father of the Juneteenth holiday,” and framed it as a “source of strength” for young people.
Since then, 41 other states and the District of Columbia have recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday or holiday observance. “This is similar to what God instructed Joshua to do as he led the Israelites into the Promised Land,” Al Edwards said in 2007. “A national celebration of Juneteenth, state by state, serves a similar purpose for us. Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations. That’s why we need this holiday.”
The mission statement for the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign is as follows:
“To bring all Americans together to celebrate our common bond of freedom through the recognition, observance, education and historic preservation of Juneteenth in America.”
“Together we will see Juneteenth Independence Day become a National Holiday Observance in America!” – Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr, MD
Juneteenth is a huge part of “our” history as Americans and should be included in all school curricula. A date proclaiming freedom for all men and women from slavery should be remembered and celebrated by all Americans.