Some of us take it for granted now. But, transport yourself back 154 years ago, to the bustling seaport city of Galveston, the front door of Texas. Controlled by the Confederacy for two years, news of Lee’s surrender had reached Texas at the end of April. Uncertainty descended upon the city as further news of the fate of Confederate armies was slow to arrive. However, on June 18, 1865, the final news came in the form of General Gordon Granger and his 2000 Union soldiers who had come to occupy the town and inform its residents, and Texas, of the end of the war.
But he also told them something else.
The day after his arrival, General Granger walked onto the balcony of Ashton Villa. He opened a piece of paper. And he said these simple words:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are fee. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.
It is difficult to imagine the feeling of each man and woman trapped in slavery upon hearing those words. Each man and woman, whose families had been ripped apart, who controlled little about their own personal lives, who lived in fear of physical torture and pain at the slightest infractions, who lived as their parents, and grandparents, and great grandparents had lived—as slaves, were now free.
What joy that must have been. What elation. Contemporary newspapers are full of stories of celebrations in the streets, first in Galveston and then throughout Texas as news spread.
The Emancipation Proclamation was one more step toward fulfilling the promises of the founders. Juneteenth is a joyous recollection and celebration of that step. We have much work yet to be done in our country to bring justice and equality to all Americans. The quest for justice is long and arduous, at times, but is a noble one that persists because of the dedication of those who exemplify the American ideal.
Today, let us all recall the joy of freedom and celebrate those who fight on to draw out the full meaning our Independence.