“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.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865
That proclamation, delivered by Major General Gordon Granger came after the Confederate capital had fallen on June 3rd; ten days after Robert E. Lee had surrendered the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9th, and four days after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
The Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in the rebellious states--at least in the eyes of the US government--had taken effect two-and-a-half years before. Within the Confederate states, however, slavery continued. The 13th Amendment making slavery unconstitutional in the US making slavery unconstitutional in the US wasn't yet fully ratified.
Gordon's announcement confirmed the news that in those days traveled very slowly--there was no internet, no tv, not even radio, and newspapers often didn't get the news until days or weeks after it happened.
Not everybody got the news from Galveston that June day; many slave owners waited for government agents or Union troops to tell them directly that slavery had ended. The mayor of Galveston itself told the now-freed blacks to 'get back to work.' Some who attempted to leave farms where they had been enslaved were killed. In truth, Juneteenth didn't change much--at least not immediately.
Most are familiar with the promise of 'forty acres and a mule' often attributed to Union General William T. Sherman. Sherman didn't promise a mule, but he did issue an order that included reference to 40 acres. The order, had it ever been implemented, would have given freed slaves most of the coastal land from Charleston, South Carolina, to Florida. Of course, it never was.
The proclamation at Galveston in many respects paved the way for a new form of 'slavery.' It specifies 'equality of personal rights and rights of property,' but no property is transferred by the order. Freed blacks were told (by the order itself) "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." They weren't even granted ownership of the homes where they lived. The result was that most ended up as sharecroppers, working for a portion (usually a smaller portion) of what they produced.
The celebration of Juneteenth actually began a year later--in 1866. While it wasn't the actual day on which slavery ended, it became significant, especially in Texas. The state finally declared it a state holiday in 1980.
In recent years, more Juneteenth celebrations have been held across America. In our area, Belmont is holding its 10th annual Juneteenth celebration this week. In Gastonia, the Hope Youth Network will hold a Juneteenth festival from noon to 5 PM Saturday at the Rotary Pavilion downtown. In Bessemer City, a celebration will be held Friday evening 6 - 9 PM at the Centennial Park.
Lincolnton will have its first ever official Juneteenth celebration Saturday from 10 AM-5 PM at First Federal Park on N. Poplar Street. The event was organized by the Arts Council of Lincoln County.
Among the entertainers will be guitarist/singer John Fitzgerald McGill, poet Sheena Maria, 2021 Lincoln Idol winner Jordan Lowery, the Providence Missionary Baptist Anointed Praisers, the Gold Hill Missionary Baptist Choir, singer Areli Patterson, poet Jazlyn Elmore, Christian Rapper Aric Torrence, Dancer Maranda Parks, and Tiwanna Rice Jefferies. Multiple vendors will be there including several selling food.
The truth is that many of the problems America faces today, much as some would like to deny it, stem from our beginning as a nation that legalized slavery, and the failure to do more than declare freedom and nothing more when a war fought by some states to salvage slavery was lost.
Contrary to the words of General Order Number 3, absolute equality still doesn't exist in this so-called 'land of the free.' Juneteenth seems an ideal time for those of us who believe in that concept and still aspire to that ideal to commit ourselves to making it happen.