U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger made that pronouncement 149 years ago today after arriving by boat in Galveston Bay with 1,800 Union troops.
His statement made it official that the 250,000 black Americans in Texas still being held in slavery had been granted their freedom. It was joyous news that traveled across the state in the weeks that followed, causing many former bondsmen to erupt into spontaneous celebrations.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued in September of 1862, to go into effect Jan. 1, 1863, Texans celebrated “Juneteenth” (a combination of June and nineteen) as their Freedom Day, which formally came two and a half months after the end of the Civil War.
The day didn’t become an official holiday in the state until 1980, but except for a few years during the 1960s — at the height of the Civil Rights Movement — black Texans have had annual celebrations of Juneteenth from the beginning.
With the holiday falling on a Thursday, this year’s celebrations cover an entire week that began last Saturday and conclude this weekend. The various activities include parades, picnics, ecumenical services, festivals and pageants.
No matter how you commemorate it, all Texans ought to pause to reflect on a time in our state’s history when the institution of slavery was a part of our culture. And for a hundred years after emancipation, black Texans, although no longer slaves, still had to fight for basic rights.
Though it has been a long struggle, much progress has been made since the day Granger read that executive order. Opportunities which were once unimaginable now exist for the descendants of those slaves freed in 1865, and yet we realize that there is still much work to be done.
Freedom. It’s hard to imagine a more precious gift, which is why all Texans should rejoice in celebration of this day.