By Jutta Seibert
June 19, 1865 marks the end of slavery in Texas. On this day Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army occupied Texas on behalf of the federal government and upon arrival on Galveston Island publicly read General Order No. 3 which began with this sentence: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
While slaves in the Confederate states were theoretically freed on January 1, 1863 with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, solely those in Union-occupied areas and those who fled to the North became de facto free. For most slaves in the South slavery ended only after the Union won and even then, close to six weeks passed before the news reached the outer fringes of the nation. June 19 is commemorated as the day on which the last slaves were freed despite the fact that slavery persisted in some pockets of the country until the Thirteenth Amendment took effect on December 18, 1865.
On the first anniversary of Granger’s reading of General Order No. 3 Texan freedmen began celebrating what was then called Jubilee Day. Early festivities included political rallies besides music and food. Celebrations waxed and waned over the years but the longest-running African American holiday continues to this day. June 19 or Juneteenth evolved over time into America’s second Independence Day. In 1980 Texas, befittingly, became the first state to adopt Juneteenth as a state-wide holiday. Other states followed suite and most states now recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or ceremonial holiday. There are efforts underway to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
Commemorate Juneteenth by exploring African American history. We recommend the following collections:
- African American Communities (Adam Matthew Digital)
Contains a wide variety of primary sources that document African American community life from the second half of the 19th century with a focus on Atlanta, Chicago, Brooklyn, and North Carolina.
- African American Newspapers: The 19th Century (Accessible Archives)
Provides access to the digital archives of the major 19th century African American newspapers.
- African American Studies Center (Oxford University Press)
Offers a a selection of information sources ranging from the authoritative Encyclopedia of African American History to the African American National Biography project.
- American Slavery Collection (Readex)
Features digital copies of a wide variety of primary sources on the history of slavery and abolition from the American Antiquarian Society.
- Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938 – Texas (Library of Congress)
Transcripts of interviews with former slaves from Texas.
- Black Abolitionist Papers (ProQuest)
Features newspapers articles, manuscripts, letters, pamphlets, and books written by African Americans actively involved in the movement to end slavery in the United States between 1830 and 1865.
- Black Authors, 1556-1922 (Readex)
Contains digital copies of works by African and African-American authors housed in the archives of the Library Company of Philadelphia.
- Black Historical Newspapers (ProQuest)
Offers access to the major African American newspapers of the 20th century.
- Slavery, Abolition & Social Justice (Adam Matthew Digital)
Contains digital copies of manuscripts, court documents, pamphlets, books, paintings, and maps from 1490 to 2007.
Jutta Seibert is Director of Research Services & Scholarly Engagement at Falvey Memorial Library.