June 27, 2007
Having grown up as a
somewhat sheltered WASP, Pajamadeen had never heard of Juneteenth until recently, when she learned it’s an official holiday in Texas which is also celebrated in 13 other states. Intrigued, we decided to learn more. Dating back to 1865, Juneteenth is the oldest U.S. celebration of the end of slavery, and is sometimes known as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.” Juneteenth sounds better.
Although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official over two years earlier on 1 January 1863, the news was slow to reach Texas, as there were minimal Union troops there. But after General Robert E. Lee’s April 1865 surrender and the arrival of Major General Gordon Granger in Galveston to take possession of Texas from the Confederacy, all that changed. Standing on the balcony of Ashton Villa, Granger had stunning news for slaves: the Civil War was over and they were free. (Idly wondering if a person wouldn’t be just a bit peeved to learn that they’d been free for over two years but no one could be bothered to tell them?)
Noted Civil War photographer Matthew Brady made this portrait of Granger. General Order No. 3, as delivered by Granger, read: “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.” Remain quietly at their present homes? Yeah, right.
Celebrations began immediately. Over the years, freedmen pooled their money to buy land for Juneteenth festivities in places such as Houston’s Emancipation Park and Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia. The day includes parades, cookouts (pork and strawberry soda pop are especially favored), picnics, street fairs and family reunions. Dressing up in one’s finery, a luxury not available to slaves, also became a tradition.
Juneteenth is also a holiday in Arkansas, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Alaska. In 2005, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed “Juneteenth” on 19 June 2005. Learn more about Juneteenth and black history at Juneteenth.com.
Incidentally, General Granger is buried in Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Kentucky. Perhaps it would be fitting to include General Granger in Lexington’s Juneteenth celebrations?
Read about Juneteenth, a black holiday little known to white folks.
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