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EDITORIAL/Juneteenth: Federal holiday traces roots to end of slavery in Texas

June 18, 2022 at 10:00 p.m.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862, declaring that slaves would be freed in those U.S. states deemed to still be in rebellion against the United States as of January 1863.

The country was in the grips of the Civil War. Though Lincoln's order only applied to 10 states that were part of the Confederacy, there was no way to enforce freedom at the time.

As the tides of war changed and Union forces began to occupy areas under Confederate control, freedom came gradually across the South.

It would be more than two years before freedom came to the slaves of Texas.

On June 18, 1865, General Gordon Granger of the Union Army arrived with his troops in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state. And the next day he walked out onto the balcony of Ashton Villa in that city and read the following:

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere," he said.

Former slaves took to the streets of Galveston to celebrate. Their joy spread across the state as the news spread.

It became a tradition across Texas and eventually across the South to celebrate the end of slavery on June 19. Eventually, the name Juneteenth was coined to mark the day.

The day has been recognized since 1980 as an official state holiday in Texas. Most other states -- including Arkansas and the District of Columbia -- came to recognize the day in the following years. And last year Juneteenth became an official federal holiday.

It's been 157 years since Gen. Granger made his announcement. A great evil was ended that day. The following decades saw oppression and a struggle for equality. Many would argue that we are still not where we should be. That's true. But we have made enormous strides.

Today is a celebration of freedom. It's a reminder of our past and of our hope for the future. It's not a holiday for any one people, but for all Americans.

Today is Juneteenth in our Texas, our United States.

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