On this day one hundred and fifty-four years ago Union General Gordon Granger delivered the following notice (referred to as Order #3) to the people of Galveston, Texas:
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 at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
June 19th is a seminal moment in our history that reminds us that our work is never done when it comes to addressing our history of oppression and slavery and our modern forms of structural racism. June 19th is both a celebration and a call to action when it comes to educating our current students about justice, racism, equality, and true emancipation. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, freeing the slaves in all areas under rebellion against the United States. The Civil War ended on April 9th, 1865, and the news did not reach many of the citizens of Texas until Order #3 was delivered. There is some debate about how the news was likely kept from the emancipated slaves before Granger arrived with an official order. When the order did arrive many freed citizens headed north in search of lost loved ones and economic opportunity. June 19th quickly emerged as an annual day of celebration in African-American communities around the United States and particularly in the southern States.
As a history teacher I used to ask my students when true equality was achieved in the United States. The more carefully they studied our history the more they argued that serious barriers to equality remained despite the best efforts of people working intentionally to remove those barriers. It is clear to me that there is a great deal of work to be done in our neighborhoods, our schools, our states, and our nation before the spirit of Juneteenth, a spirit of love triumphing over hate, a spirit of pursuing truth over ignorance, and a spirit of Americans working together to create a more perfect union for everyone in that union will prevail. Let us celebrate this important day and commit ourselves to this essential work.