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The First Juneteenth

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In February of 1861, a special convention in Texas—a state that supported slavery—voted to secede from the United States and become the 7th member of the newly formed Confederate States of America.

 For the next four years, the nation was engaged in a civil war that cost over 600,000 American lives (2% of the total American population.) During this war, the institution that had deprived generations of Africans and African Americans their freedom finally started to crumble. On January 1, 1863, United States President Abraham Lincoln’s stunning Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and declared that all enslaved people in rebellious territories were free. While this Proclamation gave millions of people their long-awaited liberty, thousands more remained enslaved until United States military forces could spread and enforce the Proclamation.

Texas, the westernmost member of the Confederacy, remained largely untouched by war and the Proclamation. Texas even served as a refuge for many slaveholders who fled the advance of United States armies in Louisiana and Mississippi. Escaping slaveholders forcibly relocated tens of thousands of enslaved people to Texas.

 This flight mimicked earlier migrations of slaveholders and slaves to Texas. When Texas became a state in 1845, many slaveowners from older southern states transferred their cotton production and plantations to Texas and took advantage of the vast amount of available land. Quickly, Texas’ agricultural production, hierarchy, and support of slavery closely resembled that of the rest of the Deep South. While wealthy slaveowners dominated society, enslaved people were legally, physically and emotionally regarded as property.

Even after C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant in April of 1865, roughly 250,000 people still lived as slaves in Texas.

 Months after the Emancipation Proclamation’s author, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated, enslaved Texans were still largely unaware that the President had promised them freedom two years earlier. On June 19, that changed.

After remaining Confederate forces in Louisiana and Texas surrendered in May and June of 1865, the United States military appointed U.S. Major General Gordon Granger to take command of the Department of Texas.

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Morris Brown College 2016 Juneteenth 155 years later

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 On June 19, Granger arrived in Galveston, a small island off the east coast of Texas, and read aloud General Order #3:

“The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States [President Abraham Lincoln], 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 order was confirmed the next day, when it was printed in the Galveston Tri-Weekly News. The Emancipation Proclamation—and freedom—had reached Texas.

 The first Juneteenth celebration was born.

As the news of Emancipation spread, many newly freedpeople left Texas to find homes while others—some by choice and some by force—stayed to work for their former masters. Austin Grant, who was a former slave outside of Gonzales, recalled the moment he heard of his freedom:

“When the war finally was over, our old boss called us [slaves] all up and had us to stand in abreast, and he stood on the gallery and he read the verdict to ‘em…I guess when he said that they knew what he meant. The’ wasn’t but one family left with ‘im. They stayed about two years. But the rest was just like birds, they jes’ flew.”

The road to freedom and citizenship in Texas was long and grueling, but June 19 was still a powerful symbol for African Americans.  From that date on, the pursuit of equality and citizenship could begin.

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Juneteenth 2016 Morris Brown College...

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Juneteenth 2016 Atlanta...Morris Brown College ....

Full article:  http://ushistoryscene.com/article/juneteenth/

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