On this day 155 years ago, the people of Galveston, TX listened as Gen. Gordon Granger delivered the federal order that “all slaves are free,” and unwittingly planted the seeds for the Juneteenth celebration that is still widely observed to this day.
Juneteenth celebration, 1905
Of course, it was a full 2.5 years before this that President Abraham Lincoln declared in the Emancipation Proclamation that “all persons held as slaves … shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” And it was, of course, roughly 87 years before Lincoln’s address that our country’s forefathers proclaimed “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And even on June 19, 1865, slave owners in Galveston and beyond refused—some violently so—to honor their freedom.
But none of that could contain the jubilation of the newly freed black men and women of Texas.
As a quote in Hayes Turner’s essay goes: “The way it was explained to me, the 19th of June wasn’t the exact day the Negro was freed. But that’s the day they told them that they was free … And my daddy told me that they whooped and hollered and bored holes in trees with augers and stopped it up with [gun] powder and light and that would be their blast for the celebration.”
With that, they bravely claimed the day and all those to follow as their own. Exactly a year later, Juneteenth was born as a means of rejoicing in the historic occasion, and today, we join in that celebration.
We also recognize that the declaration on June 19th 1865—not unlike those on January 1, 1863 and July 4, 1776, and many others to follow—did not end the oppression of people of color in our nation. And as we mark the hard-fought victories in the fight to ensure equality for all in our nation, we reaffirm our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We hope you will join us.