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Commemorating the End of Slavery, Celebrating Juneteenth!

By Jutta Seibert

General Order No. 3, June 19, 1865
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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:


Jutta Seibert is Director of Research Services & Scholarly Engagement at Falvey Memorial Library.

 

 



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Last Modified: June 17, 2020