My great grandmother was born on February 11, 1865, two years and 41 days after the Emancipation Proclamation decreed that, “All persons held as slaves shall be free.” This makes me barely the fourth generation born out of slavery in the United States. There were two dates from 19th century American history that I have always remembered – January 1, 1863, the one that I learned in school, and June 19, 1865, the date that we were taught to celebrate and revere at home. Interestingly enough, these seemingly disparate dates stood for the same significant momentous event. President Lincoln’s Executive Order declared all slaves free on January 1, 1863. This date was official, but there was no true deliberate speed in spreading the news. Word of freedom did not travel like it does today, and word of the end of the Civil War did not hit some southern states and millions of slaves for months or even years. Therefore, June 19th, affectionately known as Juneteenth, is a day that many Black Americans commemorate as a holiday celebrating freedom.
Dating back to 1865, June 19th was the date that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, traveled to Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Legend has it that this is when the final slaves in Texas were informed of their freedom, essentially because the Union Army had to travel throughout the southern states to deliver the news and enforce the Executive Order. General Granger brought with him General Order Number Three, which came two and a half years late and months after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee, which stated,
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free."
Texans were the first to celebrate Juneteenth with their new designation as free, and recognition of Juneteenth grew with more participation from descendants over time. Eventually, Texas was the first to declare Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1980. Ohio was the 35th of 47 states and Washington, D.C., to acknowledge Juneteenth as a holiday. And now the National Museum of African American History and Culture calls this day “our country’s second Independence Day.” I encourage the University of Akron community to reflect and remember this important historic event.
Jolene A. Lane, Ed.M.
Vice President for Inclusion and Equity, Chief Diversity Officer
The University of Akron