It is written in the history books that on January 1st, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, both a presidential proclamation
and an executive order that changed the legal status of slaves in the ten states that were still in rebellion. Over 3 million people were no longer slaves, but now free men and women. Many people would consider 1863 a watershed year for the United States and the beginning of a new era that would grant equality to African-Americans. While the Emancipation Proclamation proclaimed freedom, it did not outlaw slavery, and did not grant citizenship to the ex-slaves. It was merely the stepping stone of the future goal: to reunite the Union and eventually eradicate slavery throughout the United States.
After the Civil War, the fight to make slavery illegal was a slow, grueling process. It was not until two years later on June 19th, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas with word that the enslaved were now free.
Why did it take so long? Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on Texas because of the small number of Union troops there to enforce the new order. With General Lee’s surrender a few months earlier and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, there was finally enough manpower to enforce this new executive order.
There have been many speculative stories on why the news took so long. Here are a few versions of the story:
“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”
Regardless of the reason, this news called for celebration. The historical landing of General Gordon Granger and his troops on June 19th led to many celebrating this day and coining it “Juneteenth”. Historically, the Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.
In modern times, Juneteenth is celebrated primarily by the African-American community in the United States. On this day, there is a celebration of freedom and achievement in the African-American community while encouraging continuous respect for all cultures.