Most of us learned in school that President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Word that slaves were now freed spread through the Union and most of the Confederacy, though most slave owners did not follow Lincoln’s order. However, word of freedom did not reach Texas until two and one-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
There are many stories to explain this delay. Some say that a messenger carrying news of the Proclamation was murdered on his way to Texas. Others believe that slaveowners withheld the information to maintain control of their slaves. Another version has federal troops waiting for the last cotton harvest to benefit slaveowners before making the announcement. Whether any of these tales is true is unknown, but whatever the reason, slavery remained in Texas longer than allowed by U.S. law. The Confederate surrender came in April of 1865 and after that Union General Granger led a regiment to Texas.
One of the first actions he took was to issue General Order Number 3, which read: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with the Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves as 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 free labor.”
Many slaves stayed with former owners to establish the employee-employer relationship, but many others, detesting the conditions of slavery left to begin creating a new status for black people in America. Many of them returned east to be reunited with families in the south. As the former Texas slaves established new lives, they carried with them the memory of that June day when they learned of their freedom and they celebrated.
These celebrations took hold, especially in Texas, where even decades later many former slaves returned to Galveston on June 19th. Texas made Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1980. Juneteenth celebrations are replete with tradition, from barbeque to strawberry soda. But they are also marked by encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures. Thus, you will find that Juneteenth events feature activities such as poetry readings and job fairs. I encourage you to learn more about our country’s rich history, the struggles that [Blacks] have overcome, and the challenges we all still face in understanding each other, living together and appreciating the colorful and unique tapestry of our American heritage.