UTAH (ABC4) – Juneteenth—also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, or the country’s second Independence Day—stands as an enduring symbol of Black American freedom.
When Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and fellow federal soldiers arrived in Galveston, a coastal town on Texas’ Galveston Island, on June 19, 1865, it was to issue orders for the emancipation of enslaved people throughout the state.
Although telegraph messages had shared news of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and while the war had been settled in the Union’s favor since April of 1865, Granger’s message was a promise of accountability. There was now a large enough coalition to enforce the end of slavery and overwhelm the Texas Conferedate constitution, which forbade individuals’ release from bondage.
In that way, Texas became the last Confederate state to end slavery in the U.S.
Though celebrated for hundreds of years in parts of the U.S., Juneteenth’s history and significance only recently scaled for a massive national audience and inflection point. The historic date was not recognized as a federal holiday until 2021—more than a century and a half after it took place.
Maj. Gen. Granger was given command of the District of Texas following the Civil War’s conclusion, making him an obvious choice for delivering General Order #3.
In its simplest terms, General Order #3 declared that all enslaved people in Texas were free; but the order maintained racist undertones and encouraged enslaved people to stay where they were being held to continue work—this time for wages as free men and women.
The order’s handwritten record, preserved at the National Archives Building in Washington D.C., reads:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
The first year Juneteenth will be celebrated as federal holiday will be June 19, 2022.