One hundred and fifty-six years after U.S. Major Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston, formally executing the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas, Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law on Thursday, June 17.
Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865, when Granger read the order in Galveston, as the day enslaved people in Texas became free. Though President Abraham Lincoln actually signed and issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, it would take another 2½ years for it to affect the estimated 250,000 enslaved people in Texas.
On Tuesday, June 15, the U.S. Senate passed the act by unanimous consent, meaning no senator opposed it.
“This is nothing new to the state of Texas,” said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) of the legislation. “We’ve had it a state holiday for the last 40 years, but I believe that there’s no better time than the present, particularly given the strife we’ve seen, the level of distrust, for example, between law enforcement and the communities they serve, than to acknowledge our nation’s history and to learn from it.”
In 1979, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday.
Cornyn co-sponsored the Senate bill with Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts).
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the act Wednesday, June 16, by a vote of 415-14, clearing its path to the president’s desk.
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (R-Austin), whose district includes Burnet County, voted in support of the act.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) introduced the House legislation in February. She expressed gratitude to her colleagues in the House and the Senate for passing the landmark act.
“With the passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, the federal government will join 47 states in recognizing as a holiday Juneteenth, the day that has been celebrated by African Americans for 156 years and has been called rightly as ‘America’s second Independence Day,’” Lee said in a media statement. “As I have said many times, Juneteenth is as significant to African Americans as July 4 is to all Americans because on that day, June 19, 1865, 155 years ago, General Gordon Granger, the Commanding Officer of the District of Texas, rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced the freedom of the last American slaves; belatedly freeing 250,000 slaves in Texas nearly two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.”
It took that amount of time for word to reach Texas because U.S. forces were still fighting the Confederates. After Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered in April 1865 to U.S. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse, it would be eight more weeks before Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, to surrender in Galveston on June 2, 1865.
Even after Granger’s arrival and declaration of the freedom of enslaved people, it didn’t immediately happen as some slave owners held out on following the order.
In 1867, Texans held the first Juneteenth celebration in the state capital of Austin. Lee pointed out it “remains the oldest known celebration of slavery’s demise, commemorating freedom while acknowledging the sacrifices and contributions made by courageous African Americans towards making our great nation the more conscience and accepting country that it has become.”
JUNETEENTH EVENT IN MARBLE FALLS
In Marble Falls, St. Fredrick’s Baptist Church, 301 Avenue N, is holding a Juneteenth celebration from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. Activities include a Black history presentation at 1 p.m. and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament during the day.
Volunteers are cooking and serving a barbecue lunch with peach and cherry cobblers. The event is free, but donations are welcome. Proceeds will help with the construction of a Black history museum on the lot adjacent to the church.