Juneteenth celebration reminds us of what freedom means

Published 7:35 am Friday, June 4, 2004

By Staff
CASSOPOLIS -- Juneteenth, a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation and the freedom it gave black slaves in 1863, and then again in 1865 in much of Texas, will be celebrated for the second time in Cass County on Saturday, June 19.
The Minority Coalition of Cass County is sponsoring the celebration at Calvin Township Hall, 18727 Mt. Zion St.
Festivities, which are free and open to all, begin at noon with a hog roast. Celebrants are encouraged to come in period dress.
For more than 100 years, African Americans in Texas and all over the country have been celebrating this special holiday, Juneteenth. The celebration of freedom is what Juneteenth is all about. Juneteenth, or June 19, 1865 -- two years after the Emancipation Proclamation -- marks the date when many slaves in Texas learned that they had been freed.
Slaves had no freedom to work and live as they chose. They were owned, like others' possessions.
If you were a slave child, you would not be allowed to attend school. It was against the law to teach a slave to read or write.
Your family might be separated for life if you owner decided to sell any one of you to someone else in another state.
Slaves had little time for play. Everyday life was more difficult. They worked from early morning until late at night.
Many times they were beaten if their owners did not feel they were working hard enough.
Slaves were expected to do very hard, dirty, bcak-breaking work. They dug wells and canals, planted and tended crops, made furniture, shoed horses and built houses. And they also cooked, cleaned and took care of their owners' children. All of this, and so much more, they did without being paid.
President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect Jan. 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation freed only slaves in the states fighting with the Union. However, it was not until the Union, or northern, army arrived in Texas in 1865 that many slaves were informed that they had already been free for more than two years!
On that day in 1865, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger read General Order 3 to the people of Galveston.
General Order 3 stated, "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 nd rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freed men are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idelness either there or elsewhere."
Large celebrations on June 91 began in 1866 and continued regularly early into the 20th century. African Americans treated this day like the Fourth of July and the celebrations contained similar events.
In the early days, the celebration included a prayer service, speakers with inspirational messages, reading of the emancipation proclamation, stories from former slaves, food, red soda water, games, rodeos and dances.
The celebration of June 19 as emancipation day spreads from Texas to the neighboring states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma as African American Texas migrates.
Celebration of Juneteenth declined during World War II, but revived in 1950 at the Texas State Fair Grounds in Dallas.
Interest and participation fell away during the late 1950s and 1960s as attention focused on expnsion of freedom for African Americans.
In the 1970s Juneteenth revived in some communities. For example, in Austin the Juneteenth celebration returned in 1976 after a 25-year hiatus.
House Bill 1016 passed in the 66th legislature, regular session, declaring June 19 "Emancipation Day in Texas," a legal state holiday effective Jan. 1, 1980.
For more information about Juneteenth in Cass County, Adrienne Glover or Ernest Burton at 269/476-2242.