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
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
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.