Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery by marking the day enslaved people in Texas learned they were free, is now a federal holiday. The move comes after growing support nationwide for observing the day of celebration and reflection.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United
States. 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 the
enslaved 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 that have been 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 enslavers 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 them could be true. For whatever the reason, conditions in Texas
remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.
General Order Number 3
One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General
Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:
"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 rights and rights of
property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between
them becomes that between employer and free laborer."