Juneteenth is the day that nationally commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19th, 1865 news that the war and slavery had ended finally reached Galveston, Texas, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Although it had been enacted by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, insufficient communication standards coupled with the disregard of the proclamation from the Confederate troops resulted in the delay of the good news.
About two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered in Virginia, Major General Gordon Granger reached Texas where 250,000 black people were still enslaved. Upon arrival, he announced the official end of slavery but still urged the freedmen and freedwomen to continue to work for their former masters. General Granger announced the General Order No. 3 saying:
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.
Many left without even pondering the idea of staying to work for their people who enslaved them. Becoming known as “the scatter,” many freed people left to find family or more welcoming environments in the North. Many challenges were faced by the freedmen and women who now had to fight against centuries of oppression and discrimination. The abolishment of slavery did not ensure true freedom for black Americans.
The celebration of June 19th (coined “Juneteenth”) is highly revered in Texas as well as in many different parts of the country. The day was celebrated through praying and family gatherings. Today, celebrations remain similar and in some cities like Atlanta and Washington, parades and festivals are held to commemorate the holiday.
In light of the nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism, there is even more interest in the day that represents freedom. Along with the progress of the Black Lives Matter movement, the message behind Juneteenth reassures Americans that change is possible and inevitable.