Culture on My Mind
June 18, 2021
This week, I have Juneteenth on my mind.
Tomorrow is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. It is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day. It was established in 1865, when over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in Galveston, Texas were finally informed of their freedom.
During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. It was formally issued on January 1, 1863, declaring that all enslaved persons in the Confederate States of America in rebellion and not in Union hands were to be freed.
Planters and other slaveholders had migrated to the more geographically isolated Texas from eastern states to avoid the fighting, many of them bringing enslaved people with them. This increased the enslaved population of Texas by thousands, and by 1865, there were an estimated 250,000 enslaved people in the state.
News of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender, which happened on April 9, 1865, reached Texas later in the month. The western Army of the Trans-Mississippi did not surrender until June 2nd, and by June 18th, Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston Island with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas on behalf of the federal government.
The following day, while standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, General Granger read aloud the contents of “General Order No. 3”, announcing the total emancipation of those held as slaves:
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.
Even though the event is popularly thought of as “the end of slavery”, the Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to those enslaved in Union-held territory. Those slaves would not be freed until a proclamation several months later after the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865.
The freedom of formerly enslaved people in Texas was given legal status in a series of Texas Supreme Court decisions between 1868 and 1874.
June 19th is still officially celebrated as Juneteenth in Texas. Every state in the Union except South Dakota and Hawaii recognizes the event.
There are several places to find more information about Juneteenth and its impact on the Black community. I have highlighted four of them below. I hope that they offer a chance to learn about the importance of Juneteenth and spark further interest in finding out more about it.
“Why all Americans should honor Juneteenth” from Vox:
Vox also has a discussion and other resources at their website.
NextGen America presents a history of the event and how it has shaped the experience of Black people in the United States:
The Washington Post explores what Juneteenth tells us about the value of Black lives in America:
Finally, Dr. Shennette Garrett-Scott made a detailed presentation of the holiday’s history back in 2013:
Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.
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