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Juneteenth: Overview

Library resources on Juneteenth

History

                                                        

On June 17, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. signed into law the bill that established Juneteenth National Independence Day, June 19, as a legal public holiday. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the date Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and delivered General Order No. 3 announcing the end of legalized slavery in Texas. Historically, it has been a holiday celebrated by people of African descent in the United States, as well as people in Canada, Jamaica, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and other countries throughout the world. Juneteenth is also a “symbolic date” representing the African American struggle for freedom and equality, and a celebration of family and community.

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Although two years and six months had passed since President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, many African Americans remained enslaved in Confederate states and also in the border slave states that remained loyal to the Union. The surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia on April 9, 1865 had not impacted Texas. Many plantation owners refused to acknowledge that the war was over and refused to “release” their enslaved workers from bondage. This practice continued even after the issuance of General Order No. 3.

Many enslaved Blacks in Texas had already escaped prior to Granger’s announcement. A brigade of the 25th Army Corps, comprised of more than 1,000 African-descendant soldiers, arrived in Galveston and captured Galveston on June 5, 1865, a week before Granger’s arrival. They chased the rebel government and soldiers into Mexico. The Black soldiers of the 25th Army Corps also spread the word about freedom, and Civil War historians estimate that thousands of enslaved people escaped to freedom because of the actions of the 25th Army Corps.   

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The struggle for freedom and equal rights has continued, and so has the celebration of Juneteenth, as people of African descent and others commemorate Juneteenth in their homes, churches, schools, and communities. They attend church services, host parades, races, picnics, oratorical contests, musical, literary, and cultural festivals, and often visit cemeteries to reunite the freed and living with their enslaved ancestors. Since January 1, 1980, when Texas officially recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday, more than 40 other states have passed legislation observing or recognizing the significance of Juneteenth. Historians have observed that Juneteenth remains significant because it is one of the earliest continuously observed holidays that African Americans established in the United States; it signifies for the African American population that America is the land of the free and that the fight for equality is ever present and ongoing..

 (Library of Congress)

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.

(Library of Congress)

Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger

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This is why Juneteenth is important for America

Juneteenth

Stroud front porch became one of the birthplaces of Juneteenth

On Saturday, June 19, 1865, in Limestone County, Texas, plantation owner Logan Stroud stood on the front porch of this house to tell more than 150 of his enslaved workers that they were free. Photo: Historic American Building Survey. Prints and Photographs Division. Library of Congress

On June 19, 1865, Logan Stroud, one of the largest slave-owners in east Texas, walked to the front porch of his plantation home, which he called Pleasant Retreat. More than 150 of his enslaved workers gathered around to listen.

He pulled out a dispatch from U.S. Maj. Gen  Gorden Granger — General Order Number 3 — issued that very morning in Galveston from the Union Army’s Texas headquarters. The Confederacy had officially surrendered in April, but the last holdouts in Texas had fought on until they, too, were defeated. Now that the war was settled, President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation would become the law of the land, even in the Lone Star State.

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, ‘all slaves are free,’ ” Stroud began, reading the opening line of Granger’s order. “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves…”

Stroud’s family had come to Texas when he was just a boy. They built an empire of more than 11,000 acres — cotton, cattle, corn, wheat, pigs, sheep — and grew wealthy on slave labor. Now he was 51 and all that was over.

Stroud began to weep.

One of his daughters had to take over the reading. “…the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor….”

The details of the day were partly recorded by the Limestone County Historical Commission. And so it was that the Stroud front porch became one of the birthplaces of Juneteenth — when the final group of enslaved people in the United States were informed of the end of the Civil War, of slavery and of the brutal bondage that had defined their lives.