Juneteenth — the Day Slavery was Abolished in Texas
June 19, 1865, marked a pivotal moment in Texas history. On that day, nearly a month and a half after the end of the Civil War, slavery was abolished statewide, signaling the end of a centuries-old institution of dehumanization and abuse. Celebrated today as Juneteenth or Emancipation Day, the holiday is an occasion to reflect upon a somber chapter of American history and to commemorate the liberation of enslaved people across the state of Texas.
Progress toward the abolition of slavery was advanced when President Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. This executive order declared that all people enslaved in certain areas of the rebelling Confederate States of America were free as of January 1, 1863. It did not apply universally to all those enslaved, however; Texas was not under Union occupation, and therefore was not affected. More than two and a half years passed between Lincoln’s Proclamation and the formal end of slavery in Texas.
The process of ending slavery in Texas began when Union General Gordon Granger was given command of the Department of Texas on June 10, 1865. Nine days later, he arrived in Galveston and issued General Order Number 3, declaring that “all slaves are free,” and that the relationship between master and slave would from then on only be considered as “that between employer and hired labor.” Such a monumental change could not be effected immediately; it was a slow process that saw Granger traveling throughout Texas for six weeks, helping word spread from plantation to plantation that all slaves in Texas were free. By the end of the summer of 1865, slavery was fully abolished in Texas.
A record of slavery in Texas can be found in the Archives of the Texas General Land Office. Although technically illegal, many families immigrating to Mexican Texas brought along their slaves in varying numbers. Stephen F. Austin, ever meticulous in recording data for his colonies, documented slaves in his 1826 Padrón de la Colonia de Austin. The census, taken two years after the founding of San Felipe, noted that out of the 1800 almas, or “souls” present in the colony, 443 were slaves. In his Register of Families, Austin classified slaves as dependientes, or “dependents.” In both cases, no further demographic information was given.
By the time General Granger’s Order Number 3 officially abolished slavery in Texas, it was estimated that 250,000 enslaved people lived and labored in the state. The day that marks their freedom from slavery is without a doubt an important moment in Texas history.
From 1865 to today, the recognition of Juneteenth increased from a symbolic celebration to a state-recognized holiday observed throughout the United States. R. J. Evans, an African-American state representative who was born a slave, worked for years in the Legislature to advance the causes of black Texans. In 1879, he sought to expand the celebration of the anniversary of June 19, 1865, by introducing legislation marking the date.
In 1980, Juneteenth had become the widespread celebration that it is today, and it was made an official holiday in Texas by legislators. It is filled with traditions including public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, the singing of traditional songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and with readings by noted African-American writers. Celebrations range from parades and rodeos to historical reenactments and Miss Juneteenth pageants.
The full text of the Emancipation Proclamation, transcribed by the National Archive:
January 1, 1863
By the President of the United States of America:
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
“That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.”
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
 Jeffries, Judson L. “From Juneteenth, Black Texans and the Case for Reparations.” Negro Educational Review 55, no. 2/3 (Apr-Jul 2004): 107. ProQuest Research Library.
 Handbook of Texas Online, James Alex Baggett, “Granger, Gordon,” accessed May 31, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgr10.
 In 1884, Evans secured the Republican nomination for the position of Commissioner of the General Land Office. After his defeat in the election, he moved to Houston, where he continued to be politically active for many years. Handbook of Texas Online, Douglas Hales, “Evans, R. J.,” accessed May 31, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fev16.
 Handbook of Texas Online, Teresa Palomo Acosta, “Juneteenth,” accessed June 05, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lkj01.