Juneteenth- Emancipation Day

June 19, 2012

Did you know?

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Video: The Confederacy politics behind the slave trade

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Juneteenth

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.

Photo: Courtesy of Library of Congress

Gordon Granger was a major general in the Union Army during the Civil War who headed the infantry division that captured Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan during the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. Granger had previously distinguished himself in the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863 and the Battle of Chattanooga in November 1863.

Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

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 neither of these version could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question   For whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.

General Order Number 3

One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:

“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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

Source: JUNETEENTH.com

http://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm

Large celebrations on June 19 began in 1866 and continued regularly into the early 20th century. The African-Americans treated this day like the Fourth of July and the celebrations contained similar events. In the early days, the celebration included a prayer service, speakers with inspirational messages, reading of the emancipation proclamation, stories from former slaves, food, red soda water, games, rodeos and dances.

The celebration of June 19 as emancipation day spread from Texas to the neighboring states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. It has also appeared in Alabama, Florida, and California as African-American Texans migrated.

In many parts of Texas, ex-slaves purchased land, or “emancipation grounds,” for the Juneteenth gathering. Examples include: Emancipation Park in Houston, purchased in 1872; what is now Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia; and Emancipation park in East Austin.

Source: Texas State Library and Archives Commission

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General Order No. 3, Texas Emancipation Proclamation June 19, 1865

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Video: The Emancipation Strategy

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Video: Lincoln’s Proclamation

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Freedom offered to enslaved Africans in America during the War of Independence

Source:PBS

While the Patriots were ultimately victorious in the American Revolution, choosing sides and deciding whether to fight in the war was far from an easy choice for American colonists. The great majority were neutral or Loyalist. For black people, what mattered most was freedom. As the Revolutionary War spread through every region, those in bondage sided with whichever army promised them personal liberty. The British actively recruited slaves belonging to Patriot masters and, consequently, more blacks fought for the Crown. An estimated 100,000 African Americans escaped, died or were killed during the American Revolution. While the Patriots were ultimately victorious in the American Revolution, choosing sides and deciding whether to fight in the war was far from an easy choice for American colonists. The great majority were neutral or Loyalist. For black people, what mattered most was freedom. As the Revolutionary War spread through every region, those in bondage sided with whichever army promised them personal liberty. The British actively recruited slaves belonging to Patriot masters and, consequently, more blacks fought for the Crown. An estimated 100,000 African Americans escaped, died or were killed during the American Revolution.

Many African Americans, like Agrippa Hull and Prince Hall, did side with the Patriot cause. 5,000 black men served in the Continental Army, and hundreds more served on the sea.

Had George Washington been less ambivalent, more blacks might have participated on the Patriot side than with the Loyalists. When he took command of the Continental Army in 1775, Washington barred the further recruitment of black soldiers, despite the fact that they had fought side by side with their white counterparts at the battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill.

The Governor of Virginia, whose royal title was Lord Dunmore, on the other hand, sought to disrupt the American cause by promising freedom to any slaves owned by Patriot masters who would join the Loyalist forces. (Runaway slaves belonging to Loyalists were returned to their masters.) Dunmore officially issued his proclamation in November, 1775, and within a month 300 black men had joined his Ethiopian regiment. Probably no more than 800 eventually succeeded in joining Dunmore’s regiment, but his proclamation inspired thousands of runaways to follow behind the British throughout the war.

Many thousands of African Americans who aided the British lost their freedom anyway. Many of them ended up in slavery in the Caribbean. Others, when they attempted to leave with the British, in places like Charleston and Savannah, were prevented. And there are incredible letters written by southerners of Africans after the siege of Charleston, swimming out to boats, and the British hacking away at their arms with cutlasses to keep them from following them. So it was a very tragic situation. And of the many thousands of Africans who left the plantations, not many of them actually got their freedom.

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Video: The American Revolution’s Effect on Slavery – Storm on the Horizon

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