Saturday, June 20, 2015

150 Years Ago Today: Juneteenth

Driving up to Washington DC last weekend I heard several radio announcements promoting a local annual Juneteenth celebration. I wondered to myself how many people listening to the broadcast actually knew what Juneteenth meant historically. I seriously doubted many did, but in the wake of this week's tragedy in Charleston, it is important to me to try to highlight episodes our nation's troubled past in hope of making for a better present and future. Understanding the roots of our contemporary issues is important to correcting them. 

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger (pictured above) issued General Orders Number 3, from Galveston, Texas, which stated that President Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation would be enforced in the area making the slaves there free. Owners were to now obligated to pay wages to their former human property. The news must have been quite a shock to those white Texans who had been fortunate enough avoid the war for the most part. 

However, the order also placed stipulations on the former bondsmen. They were expected to stay where they were, keep working (but now for wages), and warned to not flock to Union outposts. The change in status for the freedmen with these ensuing demands must have been difficult for those seeking to reunite separated families or divorce themselves from excessively oppressive or abusive former owners.   

Headquarters, District of Texas
Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865
General Orders, No. 3
The people 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 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.
By order of
Major-General Granger
F. W. Emery, Maj. & A. . G.  

Juneteenth is a day for celebration and reflection. Celebrate that our nation moved closer to fulfilling its promise of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as stated in the Declaration of Independence.  But take time to reflect, too, and remember those generations of the enslaved (both North and South) who never were able to taste liberty or enjoy the fruits of their labor.

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