Juneteenth

Today is Juneteeth, the holiday commemorating the announcement of the end of slavery in Texas. Because it was relatively  isolated from the rest of the Confederacy and had not been a battleground, and because word traveled slowly, news of war and politics known in other Confederate states was slow to reach Texas. News of Lee’s surrender in April 1865 didn’t reach there until May.

On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived with troops in Galveston to occupy the state. On June 19, Granger read “General Order No. 3,” which announced the emancipation:

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.

Juneteenth celebration in Austin, Texas, on June 19, 1900. By Mrs. Charles Stephenson (Grace Murray) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The order came nearly three years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Former slaves celebrated in the streets, and the next year the first formal Juneteenth celebration was organized.

As is well known, things didn’t go as they should have after that. Black people weren’t allowed to use public parks for celebrations. Some pooled money and bought land for parks where they could celebrate (such as Houston‘s Emancipation ParkMexia’s Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.) (Austin’s Emancipation Park has had a difficult history: Read “Staring Down Development, Neighbors Seek Historical Recognition for Emancipation Park, by Syeda Hasan, KUT Austin (NPR), January 19, 2017.)

The Texas Supreme Court finally recognized emancipation in a series of decisions between 1868 and 1874.  But Texas and other former Confederate States wrote Constitutions disenfranchising black people and, during the 1920s and ’30s, passed Jim Crow laws that lasted until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations spread to other states. The day was made a holiday in Texas in 1980. Now forty-five states observe it as a state or a ceremonial holiday. In 1997, Congress recognized the day through Senate Joint Resolution 11 and House Joint Resolution 56.

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Some of this post was drawn from memory; Wikipedia helped me with the rest. Find much more information at Juneteenth.com.

2 thoughts on “Juneteenth

  1. I know that your writing that Lee surrendered in 1965 is a mis-typing but it does seem appropriate. In lots of ways it feels as if Lee has STILL not surrendered.

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    1. Maybe he hasn’t surrendered. Or maybe some people haven’t heard yet. I fixed the typo anyway, in case anyone who hasn’t gotten the news reads this. Thanks for telling me about it. Originally every number in this post began with 19.

      Like

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