Monday, May 16, 2016



JUNE 18TH, 2016

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and that all slaves were free.  Note that this was two-and-a-half years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation which had become official January 1, 1863.  The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops present to enforce the new Executive order.  However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865 and the arrival of General Granger's regiment, forces were strong enough to influence and overcome any resistance.
    Later attempts to explain this two-and-a-half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years.  Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom.  Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by slave masters to maintain the labor force on the plantations.  And still another is that federal troops actually waited for slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.  All or neither could be true.  For whatever reason, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory. 
    Reactions to news of emancipation ranged from shock to jubilation.  Even with nowhere to go, many former slaves felt that leaving the plantation would be their first grasp of freedom.  North was a logical destination for many and represented true freedom, while the desire to reach family members in neighboring states drove some to Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma.  Settling into these new areas as free men and women brought on new realities and the challenges of establishing a heretofore nonexistent status for black people in America.  Recounting the memories of that great day in June of 1865 and its festivities would serve as motivation as well as a release from the growing pressures encountered in their new territory.  The celebration of June 19th was coined "Juneteenth" and grew through the years.  Certain foods, such as strawberry soda pop, have become popular and synonymous with Juneteenth celebrations.  More traditional, and just as popular, is barbecuing, through which Juneteenth participants share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors--newly emancipated African Americans--would have experienced during their ceremonies.  Dress was also an important element in early Juneteenth customs.  During slavery there were laws on the books in many areas that prohibited or limited the dressing of slaves.  According to some accounts of early emancipation celebrations, slaves tossed their ragged garments into creeks and rivers and adorned clothing taken from plantations belonging to their former masters.

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