By MURPHY BROWNE
“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.”
From “General Order No. 3” read by the Union Army’s Major-General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865 as he stood on the balcony of cc in Galveston, Texas.
cis celebrated as Emancipation Day on June 19 by many African-Americans across the United States and is recognized as a state holiday in 43 states and the District of Columbia.
As of May 2013 the following states officially recognized Juneteenth: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The celebration of Juneteenth by African-Americans came about as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation read on June 19, 1965 in Galveston, Texas and since then has spread with the migration of African-Americans who left Texas in search of the freedom that eluded them in their home state.
The Emancipation Proclamation read on June 19, 1865 by the representative of the victorious Union army of the American Civil War brought an end to the enslavement (on paper) of Africans in Texas. The enslaved Africans in Texas were the last group to be given their freedom even though President Abraham Lincoln had signed an Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Lincoln’s proclamation did not include those slave holding states that were part of the Union or those that remained neutral.
The border states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri were neutral and so exempt from Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
In reality Lincoln was not serious about emancipating enslaved Africans with his January 1, 1863 proclamation because it only included areas where he had no authority since those states had seceded from the Union. Slaveholders in the states that remained loyal to the Union remained in possession of those enslaved Africans.
The states that seceded from the United States were known as the Confederate States of America or the Confederacy. The Confederacy set up a separate government in 1861 with seven states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas) following the November 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln as the President. Those seven states created their “confederacy” in February 1861 before Lincoln took office in March.
After the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, four other states (Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia) declared their secession and were admitted to the Confederacy.
“The Confederacy later accepted two additional states as members (Kentucky and Missouri) although neither officially declared secession nor were ever controlled by Confederate forces.
On June 19, 1865 when the proclamation was read in Galveston, Texas that informed enslaved Africans that they were free and that there was “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”, those words did not make it so.
In her 2006 book, Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas, White American history professor Elizabeth Hayes Turner writes: “Soon after the declaration of emancipation on Galveston Island, the news spread quickly, but the official announcement did not result in the day of jubilee the slaves expected. The former Confederate mayor rounded up Black ‘runaways’ and returned them to their owners. The Union army’s provost marshal went along with this action but did so for the purpose of holding them as laborers for the military. Freedmen who entered the town after that found themselves pressed into military service. Although the announcement had come, for many, freedom still seemed elusive.”
It speaks to the resiliency of Africans that in spite of being denied their freedom for generations and having freedom denied even after a declaration from the President of the United States of America, they still found something to celebrate and persevered throughout the decades and centuries until the celebration is now almost a national holiday.
In Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas, after writing about the brutal suppression that African-Americans endured from their White compatriots in Texas including: “In Texas either violence or continued slavery met many slaves as they learned of their freedom. There is much evidence to suggest that southern Whites – especially Confederate parolees – perpetrated more acts of violence against newly freed bonds people in Texas than any other state. The Joint Committee on Reconstruction in hearings held from February to April 1866, discovered from military observers that between the Brazos and Nueces rivers former slave owners, disappointed by lack of compensation for their lost ‘property,’ used violence, even murder against freed people”, the author comments on the perseverance of African-Americans to ensure the recognition of Juneteenth: “Juneteenth has survived – a living energetic testimony to subversion. And while Texas legislators are now planning to build a monument to Juneteenth, there is the event itself, an anniversary and official state holiday that reminds Texans and the nation that freedom from slavery is a memory never to be eclipsed. Juneteenth is part of African-American commemorative culture. Historically it punctured an oppositional perspective, produced a community of celebrants and observers and offered a counter-memory to those who could not and would not bow to power represented by white memories and commemorations.”
It is not surprising that Juneteenth celebrations were not welcome by White Texans who would not allow African-Americans to use public spaces for the celebration and resorted to violence against the celebrants. In order to celebrate Juneteenth in safety from White violence, African-Americans had to buy land, or “emancipation grounds” in several areas of Texas. The land for Emancipation Park in Houston was purchased in 1872, the Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia was purchased in 1898 and Emancipation Park in East Austin was purchased in 1909.
During the Great Depression and the Great Migration (when African-Americans left Southern states seeking better jobs and life experiences in Northern states) the Juneteenth celebrations were not as popular. In 1979, an
African-American state representative from Houston, Albert Edwards, sponsored two legislative bills urging the state of Texas to make Juneteenth an official state holiday. The legislation passed, and as of January 1, 1980, Texas became the first state to observe Juneteenth as a holiday.
On Thursday, June 19, 2014 the Juneteenth celebration in Texas will include a concert at the Jack Johnson Park in Galveston. (Johnson, born on March 31, 1878 in Galveston became the first African-American to win the world Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1908.)
The continued celebration of Juneteenth in the 21st century is a testament to the African survival spirit.