Although bad news travels fast, good news often takes the scenic route. That appears to have been especially true during the Civil War. Although Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on the first day of January 1863, word didn’t arrive in Texas until June 19, 1865.
On that day Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed in Galveston with news that the war had ended and that those who were once enslaved were now free. One of Granger’s first acts upon landing in the Lone Star state was to read Texas General Order #3, which stated:
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.
Although we can’t begin to fathom the jubilation these new citizens must have felt, we native Texans attempt to honor the event in an annual tradition known as Juneteenth, a a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth.” From its origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went,” wrote Isabel Wilkerson in The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Today, nearly every state in the union has some form of legislation or declaration establishing Juneteenth as a holiday, observance, or day of special recognition.
In a few weeks, the United States will celebrate our nation’s Independence Day. But Juneteenth is a poignant reminder that for far too many Americans the true independence day didn’t come for another nine decades.