While Juneteenth has now been made a federal holiday, and should be celebrated by all, it is important to understand what the enslaved African-Americans of Galveston, Texas were told on that day.
On June 19, 1865, Union troops under the command of General Gordon Granger entered Galveston. The general proclaimed to the people assembled his General Order #3. Its first provision told those who had been enslaved that the Civil War was now over and that pursuant to the Emancipation Proclamation, they and others enslaved in the states in rebellion (the Confederacy) were no longer enslaved but were free. This was an important first step in the post-war freedom struggle. They were told that there was to be “…absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property.”
However, General Granger advised the newly-free African-Americans to remain at their present “homes” and work for wages and not to flee to and collect at the military posts where “…they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Clearly, African-Americans were still to be seen as second-class members of society. Even though the post-war Reconstruction period saw opportunities to be elected to offices from which rebels were barred, and confiscated lands were distributed to African-Americans to farm and work with the hope of gaining title, these hopes were dashed with the assassination of President Lincoln and the presidency of Andrew Johnson, in which the confiscated lands were returned to their previous Confederate owners.
The freedom struggle continued through Jim Crow and the Great Migration to the north and west, the Civil Rights struggle and further federal legislation on civil and voting rights in 1964 and 1965, and decades later the election of African-Americans to office in the South.
Though there is still much work to be done to secure true equality of representation and opportunities, reforms to end unequal policing and mass incarceration, it is still worthwhile to celebrate the new Juneteenth federal holiday on June 19th or the nearest Monday, to remember the first post-war steps in the freedom struggle of African-Americans in the United States.
To learn more, visit the Juneteenth Portal and other pages at the website of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of African-American History and Culture.
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