Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger delivered news that the war had ended in Galveston, Texas.
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 of which or none of these versions could be true.
Let us never forget how far we’ve come in the quest for freedom, and how far we have to go. There is still much work to be done.
Click here for a list of Juneteenth celebrations in your area.
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