In the spring of 1865, after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant and as one by one the strongholds of the Confederate states were coming under Union control, Major General Gordon Granger was sent to Galveston, Texas, with approximately 2,000 Union soldiers to establish federal law.
In the most remembered act of his career, on June 19, 1865, Granger issued General Order Number 3, which began with these two definitive sentences: “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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
That proclamation that Granger referred to was the Emancipation Proclamation which President Lincoln had issued on January 1, 1863. As Commander-in-Chief, Lincoln declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” But Galveston was geographically distant from Washington, D.C., and well outside of Union control as well as being located on an island off of mainland Texas. As the Civil War raged on, slaveowners simply refused to even acknowledge the existence of this proclamation of freedom, as if it did not exist.
Even though Granger’s order did not result in the immediate freedom of slaves even in Galveston, it was through his actions and the bravery of other people who helped relay the news that a quarter of a million enslaved persons in Texas – including those whose owners had migrated there to escape the Union Army’s reach in Mississippi, Louisiana and other areas – began to learn of their freedom. As the word spread across Texas and the South, “June the nineteenth” became “Juneteenth.” Official celebrations were organized the following year and have continued annually to mark this important milestone.
In today’s world of social media and newswires, it may be hard for us to imagine that information about the end of slavery could be withheld from the enslaved people in Texas for two and a half years, but that is exactly what happened. By withholding information, slaveowners continued to maintain an unjust system of oppression. Granger helped abolish that injustice by doing his part to speak out and inform all people of the truth.
As we observe Juneteenth this year, let us be mindful of our role in communicating information and how we can help support justice – whether through our actions in direct service to others or through the promotion of truth as verified by accurate, fact-based sources. Truth and information are at the heart of the human freedom we celebrate on Juneteenth and honor through our choices every day as we join together to live out our Mission to extend God’s care through the ministry of physical, mental and spiritual healing.