Free At Last, Happy Juneteenth!
June 19th has been a significant date in Texas to black people since 1865. On June 19, 1865 , the last remaining slaves in America were finally freed from their slave masters. This official state holiday of Texas is referred to by many names such as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day” but the most common is “Juneteenth.” Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Although Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 with it officially taking effect on January 1, 1863 , it had little impact on Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order and Texas slave masters refusing to acknowledge its decree. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states are, and henceforward shall be, free.”
Texas slaves did not hear of their freedom until Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was a full two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. Consequently, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance Legend has it that General Granger delivered the news while standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Texas’s first ever brick constructed building.
General Order Number 3
“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
Some slaves reacted to the news with skepticism, but many simply began celebrating their newfound freedom in the streets of Galveston. Since that day, all types of celebratory festivals and events have been created to commemorate this day in Texas and American history.