2005 marks the 140th year anniversary of Juneteenth. In Galveston, Texas, on June 19th, word of the emancipation proclamation finally reached the enslaved. In the 140 years since, African Americans have elevated this celebration, publicly and privately to one of the most important of the year.
A significant milestone in American history, Juneteenth serves as a reference point from which to appreciate the progress and contributions made by African Americans and an acknowledgement of African American progress ever since. For 140 years African Americans in Texas and all over the country have celebrated Juneteenth.
Slaves naturally rebelled against their owners. Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, and Gabriel Prosser are but three who decided that they would rather die than remain slaves. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (which freed only those in the states fighting against the Union) went into effect on January 1, 1863, but it was not until General Gordon Granger of the Union, or Northern, army arrived in Texas in 1865 that many of the slaves were informed that they had already been emancipated for over two years!
One of General Granger's first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:
"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."
The reactions ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation. While many lingered to learn of this new employer to employee relationship, many left before these offers were completely off the lips of their former masters, attesting to the varying conditions on the plantations and the realization of freedom. Even with nowhere to go, many felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom. North was a logical destination and, for many, it represented true freedom, while others left to reach family in neighboring states--Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore nonexistent status for black people in America.
As the news spread throughout Texas, African Americans celebrated. Festive foods were prepared, music was played, and people danced and sang. Games are played and stories told then much as they are now.
On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator in Texas. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. While not officially recognized in every state, it has become a popular holiday for African Americans everywhere.
Just a thought.
cross-posted at Liberty & Power Blog