The surrender at Appamattox ended the Civil War and finally freed many enslaved people whose lives had remained unchanged by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. However, it took another two months to get the word to the areas of the Confederacy west of the Mississippi, and on June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger brought the news to Galveston in the form of General Order No. 3 as quoted above. Granger was accompanied by 2,000 Union troops to enforce the order, which affected 250,000 enslaved people in Texas alone.
Celebrations began immediately, and have continued on the anniversary of that date, known as Juneteenth. African Americans would meet annually for picnics, barbecues, and family reunions. Often barred from other meeting grounds, they began to pool their resources to buy land where they could meet. Emancipation Park in Houston, Booker T Washington Park in Mexia, and Emancipation Park in Austin all were created during this time, with Mexia drawing crowds of over 20,000.
By the turn of the century Juneteenth was known as Texas Emancipation Day, and its observation had spread to neighboring states. It was often sponsored by churches and black civic organizations, and included baseball games, horse races, and balls. White politicians would take advantage of the opportunity to address the crowds.
By the time of the depression involvement in Juneteenth was beginning to decrease. People were leaving farms to take factory work that wouldn't accommodate a day off to celebrate, and few elders were left who remembered the actual event.
Tomorrow's post will be on the resurgence of Juneteenth and its recognition as a legal holiday.