By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
“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.” – President Abraham Lincoln
News of the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, spread throughout the states, freeing those enslaved.
While many rejoiced over the news, some did not breathe freedom until the end of the Civil War. It would take the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864 and by the House on January 31, 1865, to officially put an end to human bondage.
Yet, the mood remained somber in Texas, where over 250,000 slaves dreamed of freedom. They were forced to pick cotton for long hours on plantations and to tend cattle on farms.
Laws in Texas prevented slave owners from freeing their slaves.
Article VIII, Section 2 of the Texas Constitution that was amended in 1861 stated, “No citizen, or other person residing in this State, shall have power by deed, or will, to take effect in this State, or out of it, in any manner whatsoever, directly or indirectly, to emancipate his slave or slaves.”
It would take nearly 2 ½ years from the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation for word to reach those enslaved in Texas.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and delivered the order, “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 for wages.”
Those in servitude were officially free, but some slave owners were unwilling to comply. Historian Leon Litwack in his book, “Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery”, documented an account from former slave Susan Merritt.
“You could see lots of ni**ers hangin’ to trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom, cause they cotch em swimmin’ cross Sabine River and shoot em, ” said Merritt.
Another former slave, Hayes Turner, recalled how a former slave named Katie Darling continued working for her mistress another six years.
“(She) whip me after the war, jist like she did ‘fore,” reportedly said Darling.
For many receiving Granger’s news, it resulted in celebrations and the start of a new holiday.
“He (Granger) had no idea that, in establishing the Union Army’s authority over the people of Texas, he was also establishing the basis for a holiday, ‘Juneteenth’ (June plus nineteenth), today the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., a literary historian, professor and journalist.
Today, Juneteenth is celebrated throughout the country.
“Juneteenth is black folks Independence Day,” says Marsha Turner, 85. “Instead of celebrating July 4th, black folks should be setting off fireworks and teaching their children about the importance of June 19th. Knowledge is power. The more knowledge we obtain, the more power is gained.”
Detroit Book City will host Juneteenth Books, Poetry & Arts Fair 2018 at the Northwest Activity Center, 18100 Meyers Rd, Detroit, MI 48235 on Saturday, June 16 from 12 noon - 8pm. Additional information can be found at www.detroitbookcity.com.
“This exciting one-day event celebrates ‘freedom’ in the expression of books, art and spoken word at the family level,” says event organizers. “Spectators will buy African-American self-published adult and children's books, spoken word artists CDs and hand crafted items from artisans who create paintings, drawings, ceramics, croquet knits, candles, soaps, beauty products, jewelry & tasty edibles and more.
You'll also enjoy interactive children storytelling and spoken-word performances via a captive audience, kidzone, free health screenings and musical sounds by DJ Holly. Bring your family, church members, book club, youth group, school, neighbors, girlfriends, sport teams. Everyone is invited.”
A Juneteenth Celebration is also planned at the Michigan state capitol in Lansing. For additional information, visit https://lansingjuneteenthcelebration.org.
“It’s an honor to be asked to be a part of Lansing’s Juneteenth celebration, which is now in its 13th year,” said Rep. Andy Schor. “I look forward to celebrating Lansing’s vibrant African-American history, and the American promise of freedom and equality, with my neighbors.”