Today is the 154th anniversary of the day that slavery ended in the state of Texas, the last part of the Confederacy where slavery had survived. On June 19th, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger, the commander of the District of Texas for the Union Army, stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa on Galveston Island and read aloud “General Order No. 3” to the crowd that had gathered. The order began:
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.
When the Emancipation Proclamation was announced in September 1862, some slaveholders decided to take their slaves as far away from advancing Union troops as possible – Texas. So some loyal Confederates marched their “property” hundreds of miles to keep them out of the hands of Union troops. By mid-1865 it is estimated that the slave population of Texas had climbed up to some 250,000, from a population of about 180,000 slaves in the 1860 Census. So the Emancipation Proclamation was not enforced in Texas until the arrival of Union occupation troops after the end of the Civil War in 1865. Thus the following year was the first organized celebration of the end of slavery in Texas by former slaves. Since then it has become much more widespread, and currently most of the 50 states have recognized Juneteenth as a holiday or a day of observance.