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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

Juneteenth

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger brought the full force of the United States military establishment to Galveston and proclaimed the Civil War at an end and all wartime proclamations by President Abraham Lincoln in effect in the Lone Star State. Part of that dealt with the end of slavery in Texas.

Northern soldiers went to war to the commitment of the Crittenden Resolution, which affirmed that the war was for Union, not for troubling the “domestic institutions” of the South. But Lincoln added a second commitment with the Emancipation Proclamation that became effective on January 1, 1863. Immediately, his words freed none; he exempted slaves whose owners were not in rebellion and his proclamation could not be enforced upon those who were. But gradually, and not without grumbling, Northerners accepted this commitment, too.

So Gordon Granger’s General Order Number 3, effective June 19, or “Juneteenth,” as it came to be known, ordered approximately 22,000 Texas slave owners to free their nearly 200,000 slaves, and a like number who had been shipped to Texas during the war were also freed.

In the North, most people observe the Emancipation Proclamation as the day of freedom, and Southern states all have different dates when emancipation came as a result of the arrival of Union soldiers. Now, Juneteenth celebrations are held in many parts of the United States, perhaps because of the post-WWII migration of black Texans, perhaps because it has become a symbol for all.

Most Texas communities held annual Juneteenth celebrations after 1865. Parades, picnics, church services, dances, parties of various kinds, characterized these events. Especially after Reconstruction, Texas whites entered into the observance as sponsors of events and by allowing black employees the day off from work. Sawmill owners in East Texas regularly gave black employees time off on Juneteenth and usually contributed beef for barbeque and other foods. This happy arrangement continued until the 1950s and 1960s, when blacks began to demonstrate for recognition of their civil rights. Then, perhaps, because some no longer wanted to remember slavery, and in some cases whites withdrew their support, Juneteenth celebrations nearly passed from view.

Happily, this has turned around again. Beginning in the 1980s, once more parades and parties appeared to remind us all, black and white, of the pathos of bondage and the joy of freedom.
© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
June 20, 2008 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
(The East Texas Historical Association provides this column as a public service. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.)
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