Juneteenth: Our Other Independence Day
America’s birthday is fast approaching. But let’s not wait for July 4th to light the fireworks. There is another Independence Day on the horizon.
Juneteenth falls on June 19 each year. It is a holiday whose history was hidden for much of the last century. But as the nation now observes the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s onset, it is a holiday worth recognizing. In essence, Juneteenth marks what is arguably the most significant event in American history after independence itself—the eradication of American slavery.
For centuries, slavery was the dark stain on America’s soul, the deep contradiction to the nation’s founding ideals of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and “All men are created equal.” When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he took a huge step toward erasing that stain. But the full force of his proclamation would not be realized until June 19, 1865—Juneteenth, as it was called by slaves in Texas freed that day.
The westernmost of the Confederate states, Texas did not get news of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomatox that April until two months after the fact. But they heard once Union Gen. Gordon Granger, a New Yorker and West Point graduate with a distinguished wartime service record, arrived in Galveston Bay with more than 2,000 Union troops. It was on June 19 that he publicly read General Order No. 3, which began: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”