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Ernest Blevins: A holiday commemorating the ending of slavery

Gen. Gordon Granger

Gen. Gordon Granger ended slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865.

On June 17, 1865, the Galveston Daily News reported that U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger left New Orleans for Mobile on June 12 to rejoin his command, and from there departed for Galveston, Texas. He arrived on June 18, and established headquarters in Galveston.

On June 19, Granger issued five orders. The first was taking military command of Texas. The second named and assigned his staff. The fourth nullified the Texas Ordinance of Secession and all laws Texas created during the period of secession. The fifth order seized cotton, which was to be turned over for sale in New Orleans and New York by U.S. purchasing agents.

But the most significant order was General Order No. 3. This is the order commemorated by Juneteenth celebrations as marking the end of slavery in Texas.

General Order No. 3 reads, “in accordance with the Executive of the United States all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of person 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 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.”

Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued two years before, in 1863, it did not directly free all the slaves. As a wartime proclamation, it had to be enforced by the Union Army, and the proclamation was directed against Confederate states (excluding the Confederate states then under U.S. control). It did not apply to the border slave states of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri, which had not left the Union.

In Texas, there weren’t enough Union troops to enforce the proclamation. One can argue that Granger, establishing himself as the military commander headquartered in Galveston, effectively ended slavery in Texas when he issued General Order No. 3. Although slavery would remain legal under federal law until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December 1865, it was not practiced.

The brilliance of the Emancipation Proclamation is the way it kept Europe from siding with the Confederacy. It discouraged Europe, especially England, from formally recognizing the Confederacy (England had abolished slavery in most colonies in 1833, and entirely by 1843). It also led to the eventual passage of the 13th Amendment, which did what the Emancipation Proclamation could not do directly — end slavery.

Early celebrations of Juneteenth were limited to rural areas and private properties after being barred from public property for festivities. Freed men started efforts to raise money to buy land for their use.

The Reverend Jack Yates, a freed slave and Baptist minister, organized the Colored People’s Festival and Emancipation Park Association. In 1872, the association bought land and created Emancipation Park in Houston. In Limestone County, Juneteenth celebrations were observed at Navasota River, also called Comanche Crossing, near Mexia, Texas. The location was later named Booker T. Washington Park.

Juneteenth celebrations declined in the early 1900s with textbooks adopting the Emancipation Proclamation as the end to slavery, while ignoring Granger’s arrival in Galveston and General Order No. 3.

The lack of funds during the Great Depression also hindered Juneteenth celebrations. Many blacks dispersed and moved to the cities to seek a living. Furthermore, the rise of patriotism during and between the World Wars focused attention to July Fourth.

In 1968, Ralph Abernathy’s Poor Peoples March to Washington, D.C., sparked new interest, with Milwaukee and Minneapolis establishing Juneteenth celebrations.

In January 1980, Texas made Juneteenth a state holiday, with more than half the states acknowledging the day as a day of remembrance. Most, if not all, of the 50 states now have Juneteenth celebrations. In 2008, the West Virginia House of Delegates, under House Resolution No. 19, designated “June 19 as ‘Juneteenth,’ a day of reflection and renewal.”

In 2017, West Virginia began commemorating the holiday, with the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs organizing a celebration. In the 2018 and 2019 Legislative sessions, bills were introduced to add it to the list of seven annual governor proclamations.

Ernest E. Blevins is a Daily Mail WV historical columnist. He can be reached at blevinsee@g.cofc.edu.

Funerals for Monday, June 17, 2019

Baker, Peggy - 11 a.m., Koontz Funeral Home, Hamlin.

Goff, Joyce - 1 p.m., Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Kirby, Helen - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Kizer, Ernest - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Mount Hope.

Leach, Robert - 5 p.m., Casdorph & Curry Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Sheets, Jonathan - 2 p.m., O’Dell Funeral Home, Montgomery.

Sturm, John - 11 a.m., Simpson Creek Baptist Church, Bridgeport.

Suttle, James - 2 p.m., Wallace & Wallace Chapel, Rainelle. ements.

Wood, E.C. - 1 p.m., Humphrey's Memorial United Methodist Church, Sissonville.

Woodall, Kennedy - 11 a.m., Forest Hills Cemetery, Flatrock.