“Remembering Our Heritage!”

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free.

Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863.  The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order.  However, 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.

Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions, handed down through the years.  Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom.  Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the slave masters to maintain the labor force on the plantations.  And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.  All or none of these stories could be true.

For whatever the reason, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.  Here is a brief timeline overview of Juneteenth History:

  • 1619 – The first 20 black indentured servants arrive at Jamestown, Virginia.
  • 1769 – In the year of the Declaration of Independence, more than 200,000 slaves lived in the colonies.
  • 1789 – Text of the U.S. Constitution is ratified.  Although it never specifically mentions the institution of slavery, Congressional districts were apportioned by counting slaves as three-fifths of a person.
  • 1793 – The Fugitive Slave Act makes it illegal to aid a runaway slave and mandated the return of slaves regardless of which state they were in at the time of their discovery or capture.
  • 1847 – Frederick Douglas launches the anti-slavery newspaper, The North Star.
  • 1849 – Harriet Tubman helps slaves escape the South via the “Underground Railway.”
  • 1859 – Radical  abolitionist John Brown leads a failed revolt against slavery in Harpers Ferry, Virginia.  Brown is executed.
  • 1860 – Abraham Lincoln is elected the 16th president of the United States.
  • 1861 – Southern states secede from the Union, sparking the American Civil War.
  • 1863 – President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared free all slaves residing in the territory in rebellion against the federal government.
  • 1865 – The Confederate armies surrender.  The Civil War ends.
  • 1865 – In June, Union Major General Gordon Granger issues General Order #3, instructing that “all slaves are free.”  Juneteenth celebrates this anniversary.  The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States ratified, banning slavery forever.