Pale Horse Revelations #18: Juneteenth
General Order No. 3, June 19, 1865
Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations where we explore the historical elements of my debut novel "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." This week's entry is going to be a little bit different as we stray farther away from the elements within the book than we have in the past. Today, June 20, 2022, we officially recognize the relatively new federal holiday of Juneteenth.
While its status as a federal holiday may be new, the celebration itself is not. I thought it would be an appropriate topic for this week's edition of Pale Horse Revelations because the event which the holiday commemorates occurred during the time period in which my novel is set. We'll take a look at the holiday's origins, traditions, and its path to becoming a federal holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates the anniversary of the reading of General Order No.3 (pictured above) by Union General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865. General Order No. 3 proclaimed all enslaved people in Texas free. This marked the culmination of a process that began with President Abraham Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863 (the preliminary proclamation was issued September 22, 1862).
It's important to remember that Lincoln's proclamation did not end slavery. In fact, the proclamation pertained only to those states currently in a state of rebellion against the United States and not under the control of Union forces. In other words, Lincoln's proclamation only pertained to slaves who resided outside his sphere of influence.
As a result, emancipation came to the Southern states in piecemeal fashion as Union forces slowly secured control of the former Confederate states one at a time. Because Texas was the most remote state in the former confederacy it was the last to be reached. During the war slavery had actually expanded in Texas with an estimated slave population of 250,000 by the time of Granger's arrival.
Granger arrived on the island of Galveston on the morning of June 19th, 1865, to take command of a force of 2,000 Union soldiers. Their mission was to enforce emancipation and oversee Reconstruction. Granger's men marched throughout Galveston reading General Order No. 3 aloud. The order served to inform all Texans that, in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves were free.
It is important to note that, while this ended slavery in the former Confederate states, it did not abolish slavery. Because Lincoln's proclamation had applied only to localities in a state of rebellion, slavery persisted in two Union states (Kentucky and Delaware) for another seven months. The official end of slavery (nationwide) would come on December 18th, 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Despite this, June 19th came to be celebrated by many as the end of slavery. On June 19th, 1866, former slaves gathered in Galveston for what became an annual celebration known as Jubilee Day. The early celebrations usually consisted of baseball games, fishing, and rodeo events. Celebrants tended to dress in their finest clothes and assemble together for large elaborate meals.
Jim Crowe laws that disenfranchised African Americans across the South resulted in a decline in Juneteenth celebrations. The Great Depression led to further decline. Despite such declines there was a resurgence in the 1960's as African Americans struggling for equal rights began to equate their efforts to the struggle to end slavery. Large scale celebrations began to become more and more common, spreading across the country.
The first legislation to declare June 19th a holiday was introduced in 1996. It would take a great deal of effort and another twenty years before the date was recognized as a federal holiday. On June 15th, 2021, the Senate unanimously passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act thereby designating the date as a federal holiday. The House subsequently passed the bill the following day. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on June 17th, 2021.
Juneteenth is the eleventh American federal holiday and the first to obtain legal observance since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was designated in 1986. It joins New Year's Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, and Christmas Day as one of five date specific federal holidays. The holiday also falls within the statutory Honor America Period which extends from Flag Day on June 14th to Independence Day on July 4th,
We've come to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found this week's topic both relevant and interesting. Of course, there is much more to learn about this important day in American history. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.
As a reminder, I would love to hear from you, my readers, about topics related to the Old West that you would like to know more about. All you need to do is fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page (www.bmiltonhyde.com) and indicate your suggested topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.
Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.