On this day in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, word reached slaves in Galveston, Texas. The anniversary is celebrated in Texas and 13 other states as Juneteenth. It is also known as Freedom Day.
President Lincoln issued the Emancipation on September 22, 1862, stating the effective date as January 1, 1863. As the nation was still engulfed in Civil War, the immediate effect on slaves in the Confederate states was minimal.
Juneteenth remains the oldest known commemoration of the ending of of slavery in the U.S. The reasons for the delay in getting the news to Texas are unclear. Was the messenger murdered along the way? Was the news deliberately withheld? Or did Texas merely refuse to recognize Lincoln as President and thus reject his authority?
On June 19th, Union Soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston. Granger’s first order of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3, which read in part:
“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
In 1980, Juneteenth became an official Texas state holiday.