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Juneteenth

Friday, June 19, 2015 - 10:15am

One hundred and fifty years ago today, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect and two months after Appomattox, the U.S. Army took possession of Galveston Island and began a late-arriving battle against slavery in Texas:

The historical origins of Juneteenth are clear. On June 19, 1865, U.S. Major General Gordon Granger, newly arrived with 1,800 men in Texas, ordered that “all slaves are free” in Texas and that there would be an “absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” The idea that any such proclamation would still need to be issued in June 1865 – two months after the surrender at Appomattox - forces us to rethink how and when slavery and the Civil War really ended. And in turn it helps us recognize Juneteenth as not just a bookend to the Civil War but as a celebration and commemoration of the epic struggles of emancipation and Reconstruction.

Long-known as Juneteenth Day, Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, the occasion has long been celebrated by African-Americans and recognized by most states, including Georgia, as a holiday in ceremonial observance. We join in this year's celebration with great sadness about the travesty in Charleston. The festering wound of racism continues to bleed through the denial of its very existence. May we begin to emancipate ourselves from the hatred that pervades, and as well the symbols that help preserve it.

Image: Juneteenth celebration in Eastwoods Park, Austin, 1900 (Austin History Center)

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