Friday, June 19, 2015

Juneteenth: 150 Years Ago, Black America Got Its Own Independence Day

Official Juneteenth Committee in Austin, Texas, June 19, 1900 
COURTESY OF AUSTIN HISTORY CENTER, AUSTIN PUBLIC LIBRARY
Posted: June 18 2015 2:30 AM

In 1865, enslaved Africans on Galveston Island, Texas, had been declared free two years earlier but didn’t know it. With the United States still divided over the institution of slavery and recovering after the Civil War, members of the Confederacy weren’t eager to spread the word.

Only after Union soldiers, led by Major Gen. Gordon Granger, worked their way South for more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation did word reach Galveston Island. On June 19, 1865, known as Juneteenth—a melding of the day’s month and date—the last remaining slaves in America were declared free. Juneteenth, America’s “second Independence Day,” is now celebrated around the country. It is officially observed in 43 states and is a state holiday in Texas, home of the last to know.

There are conflicting explanations for the more than two-year delay of the news that slavery had ended in Texas. Among the possible reasons: Plantation owners withheld the news; federal troops allowed the delay so that slave owners could reap one final cotton harvest before the Emancipation Proclamation—which was issued on Jan. 1, 1863, to free the slaves in the Confederate South—was enforced; and a messenger who was on his way to Texas to deliver the news was murdered. Adding to the issue that made Texas the last holdout was that Union troops never made successful inroads against the Confederacy in that state.

Whatever the reason, June 19, 1865, is regarded as the day all enslaved people in the nation were finally free. “There were many emancipation days prior to June 19, 1865, in other states, but each of those days celebrated freedom while Texas still had enslaved people,” Galveston native Sam Collins tells The Root. “Galveston, Texas, represents the last place enslaved people were freed after the Civil War. It’s the day slavery finally ended everywhere in the United States, and we should celebrate that day.”  Read more here

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