Schools across America teach that “Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves” when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863. This complex document strategically granted freedom to the enslaved Black people specifically in Confederate states not under Union military control as of the Proclamation’s date. Though the Emancipation Proclamation is lauded as a critical document for human freedom, its conditions made the true emancipation of enslaved Black people extremely challenging.
The provisions in the Emancipation Proclamation that offered freedom to Black slaves were directly related to the hope for a Union victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War. President Lincoln expressly offered freedom to those who were enslaved in states that had seceded from the Union, with the exception of those territories that had (at the time of the Proclamation) surrendered to Union power. It is no wonder, then, that slaves in Texas were not informed of the Emancipation Proclamation until June 19, 1865 when General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, declaring the institution of slavery dead in Texas.
Though the official abolition of slavery, as practiced in the United States and the Atlantic Slave Trade, came with the ratification of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865, Juneteenth marks a critical milestoe on the journey to emancipation. Juneteenth is cited as the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, with its start in 1866 in Texas. Today, we continue to celebrate this monumental step in the journey to freedom with celebration, thoughtfulness, and an ongoing commitment to reaching true emancipation.