Celebrations began over the weekend and will certainly continue today here in Dallas, across Texas and, now, around the world!
It was on June 19, 1865, that General Gordan Granger and 2,000 federal soldiers arrived at Galveston Island as part of the plan to take possession of the state of Texas, previously under the control of the Confederate, rebel government.
Upon his arrival, Granger announced his enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln almost three years earlier on September 22, 1862. Unknown to the slave population of Galveston, Lincoln's executive order went into effect on January 1, 1863.
Standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Granger read the federal directive, “General Order No. 3”:
"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."
Former slaves rejoiced in the streets of Galveston. The next yearJuneteenth celebrations began across Texas. All over the state freed African Americans pooled their funds to purchase land to accommodate the annual celebrations. Today the celebrations continue as a community tribute to the arrival of both the news of freedom and the actual beginnings of liberation.
But, freedom was hardly won in 1865. Even the language of the "General Order" bespeaks the continuation of limitations and hedges against complete liberation for African Americans in the United States. One hundred years later black Americans were still struggling for that liberation in the American Civil Rights Movement.
Today the celebrations continue. These times of rejoicing, memory and pride are invaluable not only for the African American community, but for all of us who cherish freedom, liberty and human equality.
The struggle, the sacrifice and the joy of African Americans provides a continuing vision for and appreciation of the best in our national life and memory.