June 19 (say “June 19″ out loud three times fast to see why it’s called “Juneteenth”) is a holiday that, I think, should be more widely known. It commemorates the final end of slavery in the United States. As President George W. Bush stated in his Juneteeth message last year:
Major General Gordon Granger led Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, bringing the news that the Civil War had ended and that the Emancipation Proclamation, signed over 2 years earlier, had declared all slaves to be free persons. This historic day is celebrated to remember the end of slavery. Emancipation demonstrated our country’s belief in liberty and equality for every citizen, and was a profound recognition that each and every American has rights, dignity, and matchless value.
One hundred forty years later, the Juneteenth observance continues to remind us of our country’s founding principles of liberty and justice for all. As we mark the anniversary of the end of servitude, we also recognize the many contributions of African Americans to our culture. African Americans have helped shape our country’s character, enhanced the diversity that makes America strong, and contributed to the vitality, success, and prosperity of our Nation. Juneteenth is a day that stands for the dignity and equality of all citizens, regardless of race, so that all may share the blessings of freedom that America provides.
General Granger’s order — which he personally read before a crowd gathered in the streets of Galveston, states:
The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with the proclamation from the executive of the United States. All slaves are free. This involves absolute personal rights, and rights of property between former masters and slaves; and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.
The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their 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 here or elsewhere.
2nd: As a result of said liberation, persons formerly slaves are guaranteed their right to make contracts disposing of their services to their former owners or other parties, but with the distinct understanding that they are employees, and shall be held responsible for the performance of their part of the contract to the same extent that the employer is bound to pay for the consideration for the labor performed.
3rd: Unless other regulations are promulgated by the Freedman’s Bureau, the amount and kind of consideration for labor, shall be a matter of contract between employer and employee.
4th: All colored persons are earnestly enjoined to remain with their former masters until permanent arrangements can be made and thus secure the crop of the present season and at the same time promote the interests of themselves, their employer and the Commonwealth.
by order of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger
signed F.W. Emery
Major & A.A.G.
Source: Archives of the Dallas Historical Society, Dallas, Texas
(I think “A.A.G.” stands for “Assistant Adjutant General,” which would mean Granger’s administrative officer.)
Juneteenth was widely celebrated — at least by former slaves and their decendents — in the first few decades after emancipation, but it declined after the early 20th century, and has only recently — meaning, the last 20 years or so — began a minor resurgence. It is now a state holiday in Texas, and there is now a website, Juneteenth.com.