Amid the pain and shock of this past week’s terrifying event in Charleston, SC an important and crucial note of hope may have accidentally slipped under the radar. Friday, June 19th was the 150th anniversary of the delivery of the message of emancipation to the slaves in Galveston, Texas – the last group to receive the news. This monumental event happened over two months after Gen. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and 2 1/2 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – January 1, 1863 – using power granted the executive in times of war to legally extend freedom to slaves in the Confederate States.
Before we skip to the happy ending of the story, in 1861 when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the continuation of the War made universal enforcement of the new law impossible. However, as the Union Army progressed through the territory of the southern states, commanders were able to legally affect the end of slavery in the areas through which they advanced. Slaves in areas not reached by the advance of Union troops were notified after the treaty of surrender by messengers sent with companies of soldiers moving into the newly reunified South. Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Tx with General Order No. 3 and enough manpower to enforce it on June 19th of 1865.
That message of hope and freedom 150 years ago was followed by the passage of the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution abolishing slavery by official declaration of the highest law of this country. The amendment had passed the Senate on April 8, 1864. The House of Representatives followed on January 31, 1865, and on December 6th that same year it was ratified by the states. The yearly celebration of what became known as “juneteenth” spread across the states within a few years of the occasion itself and is now a worldwide observation.
As people of all races and creeds mourn the losses of Wednesday and the losses that have occurred through the passage of time to hate related violence, let us pull hope from the celebration of freedom hard won a century and a half ago.
For information on the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment go to www.Archives.gov