Through the course of conversation, I found many of my freedom-loving friends had never heard of Juneteenth.
Being a native Texan living right up the road from Galveston, maybe I’ve taken for granted that the 19th of June has always been a day of significance and celebration. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 two years into the Civil War, but the proclamation’s issuance didn’t trigger nationwide freedom for the enslaved.
While the Civil War came to a welcome end on June 2, 1865, it wasn’t until June 19th that the last slaves learned they were free. It was on Juneteenth that Union General Granger read “General Order No. 3” on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa.
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 day has been celebrated ever since.
Juneteenth is a testimony of how an imperfect nation bore the pain of death and division so that the right of liberty might expand its reach.
“But what a feeling can come over a man just from seeing the things he believes in and hopes for symbolized in the concrete form of a man. In something that gives a focus to all the other things he knows to be real. Something that makes unseen things manifest and allows him to come to his hopes and dreams through his outer eye and through the touch and feel of his natural hand.”
-From Ralph Ellison’s unfinished work, Juneteenth
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