On June 19, 1865, two months after Confederate General Robert Lee’s surrender in Virginia, Union General Gordon Granger and approximately 1,800 federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Granger read General Orders No. 3, which declared in part: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” Juneteenth (short for “June nineteenth”) is a holiday commemorating this day, which marked the effective end of slavery in the United States.
More than two years before Granger’s announcement, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which made known that all enslaved people in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” In reality, the proclamation didn’t instantly free any slaves because it only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control. However, as Northern troops advanced into the Confederate South, many slaves fled behind Union lines. In Texas, slavery was relatively unaffected because the state experienced no large-scale fighting or significant presence of Union troops. Many slave owners from outside the Lone Star State viewed it as a safe haven and moved there with their slaves.
After the war came to a close in the spring of 1865, General Granger’s arrival in Galveston that June signaled freedom for Texas’s 250,000 slaves. Although emancipation didn’t happen overnight for everyone—in some cases, slave owners withheld the information until after harvest season—celebrations broke out among newly freed blacks and Juneteenth was born. (That December, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.) In the ensuing decades, Juneteenth commemorations featured music, barbecues, prayer services and other activities, and as blacks migrated from Texas to other parts of the country the Juneteenth tradition spread. In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday, and today most states hold Juneteenth observances.
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