An Apology on the Eve of Juneteenth 2009
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas on horseback, accompanied by 2,000 Union soldiers and read General Order 3 to those assembled, including the 250,000 enslaved persons of African descent.
The order read:
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 rights of property between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer. The freemen 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 that they will not be supported in idleness, either there or elsewhere.
The date June 19, 2009, in many African American communities throughout the United States, will mark an observance of the celebration known as Juneteenth, its name believed to be a merging of the month and the date, when the enslaved persons of African descent in Galveston, Texas were informed of the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that had been first read to the public on January 1, 1863, two years, five months and eighteen days earlier.
They were told the War Between the States had ended and it was proclaimed that the enslaved were now free.
The earliest celebrations of Juneteenth began in Galveston, Texas eventually spreading across the country with Americans of African descent as they migrated elsewhere from the South. In the early days, festivities took place near creeks, rivers and on church grounds. Barbecues, rodeos, fishing, pageants and parades were activities enjoyed by those gathered with many former residents returning to Galveston, Texas for the annual observance.
No official reason or excuse for the late reading and pronouncement of the Emancipation Proclamation to the people of Galveston, Texas has ever been given, and is quasi dismissed with a nonchalant shrug and a 'who knows?' attitude.
There are a number of theories that have been put forward as excuses for why the Emancipation Proclamation was not read, among those are the rumor of the murder of the rider sent to deliver the proclamation to someone in Galveston,Texas and another involving the suspected collusion between the Union and the Confederacy, allowing the South to get one last crop of cotton in, which, by the way, would not have taken almost two and a half years to complete.
The Emancipation Proclamation was devised as a strategy to strike at the heart and backbone of the Confederate States, its enslaved labor force.
While Southerners fought on the battlefield for the Confederacy, the plantations left behind continued producing goods for financing and maintaining the Confederate States' efforts due to the South's enslaved labor force.
It must be noted, however, although the implementation of the document is often misrepresented as having freed all of the enslaved, when the Emancipation Proclamation is read, it clearly states that those slave holding states that remained true to the Union were not effected by this proclamation nor was slavery declared ended in any of the border states.
Within states that had seceded from the Union, instructions were given in the Proclamation, where there remained loyal elements to the Union, such as within several of Louisiana's parishes, a number of counties within Virginia and the counties contained in what was now called West Virginia, that stated “....and which accepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.”
It should be considered when seeking an answer for the delay in notification that, in those days, most of Texas existed as a sparsely settled frontier. However, Galveston, as a port city, was of tremendous value for commercial reasons, being a major site for the trade of cotton and slaves, as well as military reasons, to both the North and the South, which resulted in a fight for control and the blockade of the port by the Union Army forces.
During the Civil War, Galveston Harbor was taken by the Union for a short time but was retaken by the Confederacy and remained under Confederate control until the end of the war.
The reasons for the delay in informing the inhabitants of Galveston, Texas lie within the historical facts pertaining to when Texas entered the Union of the United States of America, on October 13, 1845, its importance as a Union state and its secession to join the Confederate States of America on February 1, 1861, almost two years before the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
On June 18, on the eve of Juneteenth in 2009, one day short of 144 years after Major General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and read General Order 3 to those assembled, including the city's quarter of a million enslaved persons of African descent, the Senate of the United States of America passed Senate Congressional Resolution 26.
The resolution offered an apology to the descendants of enslaved Africans for the centuries long existence of institutional slavery in the United States and the subsequent enactment of laws that supplanted enslavement, government sanctioned segregation, in the form of the Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws, laws that influenced American societal policies and attitudes for centuries in the past and whose vestiges continue to linger today.
The resolution was sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) with 21 co-sponsors and was passed unanimously.
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