18 June 2021
This Week’s History:
This week, the nation celebrates Juneteenth, commemorating June 19th, 1865, the date that Union Gen. Gordon Granger came aground at Galveston, Texas and read General Orders 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.” In addition to formally announcing the freedom that had technically, though ineffectually, been granted two and a half years earlier with the Emancipation Proclamation, the order also required “absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” Although often considered the last to hear the news and to be freed, recent historians have shown that Texas slaves were well aware of both the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as Robert E Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, VA two months earlier and had already begun living their lives as
freedmen and -women.
African Americans in Texas and elsewhere have been celebrating the anniversary since 1866, though such celebrations have gone by different names such as Emancipation Day or Jubilee Day. Texas declared Juneteenth a state holiday in 1979, and since then 48 other states have followed suit, with South Dakota being the only one not to recognize the day at the state level. However, after an overwhelming majority in the House and unanimous consent in the Senate passed the bill, President Joseph R Biden signed legislation this week making Juneteenth National Independence Day a national holiday, effective immediately. Additionally, there is an official Juneteenth flag, designed by activist Ben Haith, with assistance from illustrator Lisa Jean Graf, in 1997. The celebration has also moved overseas over the last few decades.
References and Further Reading:
On Juneteenth, Annette Gordon-Reed, Liveright Publishing, 2021
The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth, National Museum of African American History and Culture
Meet Opal Lee, the Grandmother of Juneteenth, ABC7 News (San Francisco, CA)
“‘Loving Day’ Turns 54. Historic Ruling Legalized Interracial Marriage,” Virginia Dogwood
Until next week, take care,
Michele “Scout” Johnson
This series of posts to H-South, “Southern History and Civil Rights in the News,” aims to generate and track informed public discussions of southern history and civil rights. To recommend a reading, please email Dr. Michele Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org