President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official January 1, 1863. It was 2 ½ years later that men, women and children enslaved in Texas heard the following news:
“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.” General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston June 19, 1865
Why did it take 2 ½ years for this message to be delivered. According to Juneteenth.com there are several answers to the why question:
“Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or none of these versions could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question. Whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.”
Why Juneteenth in Texas?
Apparently in response to the Emancipation, slave owners left Louisiana and other areas and fled to Texas which was still under Confederate control. When the troops did arrive, as seen in Granger’s order, the freedmen were told to stay where they were and become hired labor and they were also warned not to come to military posts as they would not be fed or sheltered there. At that point the freedmen had no food or living quarters other than what was provided the slave. Yet, some did leave and go North, and some simply left. But of course there were vagrant laws set up allowing them to be arrested and leased out as labor. So freedom was celebrated in a harsh reality.
According to the Juneteenth website the reaction to the news of freedom ranged from shock to jubilation. The writer states:
“North was a logical destination and for many it represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove some into Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore non-existent status for black people in America.”
The beginnings of Juneteenth
The article goes on: “Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territories. The celebration of June 19th was coined “Juneteenth” and grew with more participation from descendants. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering remaining family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date.”
When we celebrate Juneteenth at AMS Fulfillment, we do so with gratitude that the enslavement of human beings came to an end, finally, on this day. We know how hard-fought true freedom has been. In the years that followed the first Juneteenth we saw efforts at reconstruction, years of lynching and terrorism, years of Jim Crow laws and segregation, and finally the Civil Rights battles (still within the memory of many Americans.) It has been a long and arduous journey. Today our efforts focus on diversity in the workplace, equity and inclusion. At AMS we are thankful for the B Corporation model as we seek to ‘Be the Change’ and create the world that we would ALL want to live in.
The Celebrations over the Years
In the early years the Freedmen created the celebrations. They used rural locations around rivers and creeks, avoiding public property which in many places were barred to them. The activities included fishing, horseback riding, barbeques and church activities.
The article states, “Eventually, as African Americans became land owners, land was donated and dedicated for these festivities. One of the earliest documented land purchases in the name of Juneteenth was organized by Rev. Jack Yates. This fund-raising effort yielded $1000 and made possible the purchase of Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas.”
The celebrations declined during the Great Depression and resurged again during the Civil Rights years. Juneteenth became an official state holiday on January 1, 1980 in Texas. This was due to the efforts of an African American state legislator, Al Edwards.
After that, celebrations of Juneteenth grew with Institutions such as the Smithsonian, the Henry Ford Museum and others sponsoring activities. Juneteenth celebrations promote and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of African American history and culture. We need to know this history, celebrate the victories and take pride in the mountains we all have climbed as a culture. Getting involved and supporting Juneteenth celebrations creates new bonds of friendship and understanding among us.
On June 17th, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Juneteenth is a time to celebrate the inspiring truth within all human beings that we are created equal and gifted at birth with human rights. Wherever slavery and oppression still exist in the world, let us work together to bring freedom and opportunity.
Happy Juneteenth Everyone!