On June 19, 1865, a victorious Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the American Civil War had ended. He quickly read General Order No. 3 to the anticipating crowd. Former slaves were now free in all of the former Confederacy, and their celebration began.
Since that tim, June 19 has held a special significance in the history of the institution of slavery in the United States. President Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation 95, known colloquially as the Emancipation Proclamation, was issued January 1, 1863 during the American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 9, 1865). Lincoln’s purpose was to establish that enslaved people in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” The institution of slavery had mostly been abolished in Northern states by 1804, and the proclamation did not apply to a handful of border states that remained with the Union. The 13th amendment would ultimately abolish slavery in all the United States.
Emancipation from 1863 onward needed enforcement by Union troops in the Confederate controlled southern states. Even after Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, on April 9, 1865, it would be over two years before all the approximately three million slaves living in the Confederate states would be freed.
The final Confederate holdout was Texas. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with General Orders No. 3 in hand that allowed him to establish the legal authority to assume military command in the state. It has been reported that General Granger wasted no time in announcing the Civil War was officially over, and read the order aloud: “The people 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.”
Celebrations of prayer, feasting, song, and dance began that day, and have continued each year on June 19. The day celebrated in the African American community as a day for healing and advocacy has become known as Juneteenth. The day became officially recognized in all 50 states before becoming a federal holiday in 2021.
According to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF), the most prominent symbol of Juneteenth is its flag, red, white, and blue fabric, with a bursting star placed against an arc. NJOF’s mission is, “To bring all Americans together to celebrate our common bond of freedom through the recognition, observance, education and historic preservation of Juneteenth in America.”
Sources for the article include: National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, Library of Congress Archives, History.com.
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Lorna Hart is a staff write for Ohio Valley Publishing.