Sunday, June 17, 2012


On June 19, 1865, the last of the American slaves were freed. The day before, Union General Gordon Granger sailed into Galveston, Texas with 2,000 federal troops to occupy the state and establish federal control. On June 19th, Granger publicly read the contents of "General Order No. 3," officially freeing the quarter-million slaves residing in Texas.Out of this event came the celebration of Juneteenth, which is a shorthand for June Nineteenth. It began as a holiday in Texas and Mississippi and has spread throughout the country. Frequently, it's celebrated on the third Saturday in June.  

As a black national holiday, it has certain advantages over Martin Luther King's Birthday. For one, it grew organically out of the black community instead of being government created. Also, it is not such a serious holiday as MLK day. With its lighthearted name, Juneteenth appeals to many Americans by celebrating the end of slavery without dwelling on its legacy -- sort of a 4th of July for blacks. As one Juneteenth organizer said, "When I think of Martin, I can't help but see the dogs and the sticks and the little girls in the church. But when I think of Juneteenth, I see an old codger kicking up his heels and running down the road to tell everyone the happy news."

Plus, it has the advantage of its time of year. MLK Day is in the dead of winter, while Juneteenth is celebrated at the beginning of summer when the days are warm but not oppressively hot. Typically, it's celebrated with picnics, barbecues, parades and family gatherings.

Juneteenth may be as deserving of celebration as July 4th. Said the Rev. Ronald V. Meyers, chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, speaking of blacks and whites: "We may have gotten there in different ways and at different times, but you can't really celebrate freedom in America by just going with the Fourth of July."

General Order No. 3
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.

Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond, Virginia in 1905

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