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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Juneteenth: The Story Behind The Holiday

By Jeffrey L. Boney, Special to The Seattle Medium from The Houston Forward Times

Juneteenth is a part of our African American family history and it should not ever be ignored.

Juneteenth marks the day African Americans in the state of Texas belatedly received word that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed the nation’s slaves.

Although President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, the state of Texas, as a part of the Confederacy, was resistant to the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the state of Texas due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order in the state. The Emancipation Proclamation had originally taken effect on January 1, 1863, but word didn’t reach Texas until two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, which was more than two years after the actual Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to deliver a decree concerning the emancipation of Africans held in slavery in the South. One of General Granger’s first orders of business in Galveston as he stood on the shores of Galveston was to read General Order Number 3 to all the people of Texas, especially the slaves, which read:

“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 at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Upon receiving this news, many of these “newly-freed” slaves began making plans to move forward with a life post-slavery, even without having any specific place to go.

Many of the “newly-freed” slaves left their respective plantations in order to experience what their first taste of freedom would be like. Because most of these “newly-freed” slaves were smart enough to know that if someone decided to renege on their legislative decision to allow them to remain free or decided to change their minds, they wanted to be long gone before anyone would ever think about taking away this new found freedom they were experiencing.

Many of the “newly-freed” slaves moved up north as their destination choice, because it represented true freedom and had embraced the legal emancipation of slaves for years prior.

Many other former slaves moved to neighboring states to Texas, such as Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Settling into these new areas as freedmen and freedwomen brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a status of relevance for Blacks in this country.

And of course, Juneteenth became an important day for Blacks in this country and became a life-changing event for many Black families, which is why it is widely celebrated today.

Juneteenth eventually spread to Houston and to more than 26 other states, where it began to be celebrated annually. According to many Houston historians, civil rights activist and noted African American political consultant Rev. C. Anderson Davis, was the original author and sole drafter of the Juneteenth Proclamation, which in 1979, was used by Texas State Representative Al Edwards to sponsor House Bill 1016 to officially make June 19th (Juneteenth) a state holiday in Texas, the first official holiday in the nation for Black people.

It is important to remember Juneteenth and the rich history that Black people have in this country. It is also important to remember many of our ancestors and the many important historical figures that played a major part in helping establish the freedoms and traditions we continue to appreciate year after year – such as celebrating Juneteenth.

People like General Gordon Granger and John Henry “Jack” Yates are important figures to remember, as well as ordinary people who have made an impact in our society.

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