When Did Slavery Actually End? The History of Juneteenth

Christina Gardner, The Black Bear – President Abraham Lincoln called for the end of slavery with his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. It is a common misconception, however that with the stroke of his pen, slavery was immediately eradicated. In fact, it was quite the contrary.

According to pbs.org, in the first few months following the proclamation, several slaves in the southern states had no knowledge that they were free.

Many slaveholders in the south kept the information of the proclamation from their slaves hoping to keep their servitude. The secret could not be kept for too long in most of the southern states.

After the proclamation, Union soldiers went into the plantations and freed the people still being held captive. After several months, the south had nearly become eradicated of slavery.

In one of the most southern states however, black men and women were still enslaved, unknowing of the proclamation.

In Texas, the Emancipation Proclamation held little weight due to the lack of presence of Union forces in the state, according to Juneteenth.com.

It wasn’t until the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate army on April 9, 1865, nearly a year after the proclamation, when the Union forces effectively moved into the state.

In June 1865, led by, Major General Gordon Granger, the Union forces moved into Galveston, a city on the southeast border of Texas, and liberated the men, women and children making it the last slave community to be truly emancipated.

There have been a number of conclusions made as to why there was a nearly two and a half year delay for this part of the country’s slaves to be set free according to Juneteeth.com.

One is that a messenger who was sent to deliver the news to Galveston was murdered while on his journey to deliver the message.

Another is that the slave masters in Galveston knew about the proclamation but hid it from their slaves for fear of losing their laborers.

One states that it was the federal government that wanted to wait for the end of the cotton season in order to benefit from its harvest before losing the workforce in the area. Still, no exact reasoning behind the delay has been confirmed.

Though June 19 has become the day most commonly associated with the official end of slavery and the holiday now called Juneteenth, Ricki Connor says, “no one knows the actual date for sure.

Connor learned about Juneteenth about 20 or so years ago from some of his Afro-conscious friends and has celebrated it ever sense.

Connor is a playwright and from the research he has done regarding the history of Juneteenth he has developed several versions a script based around the Galveston liberation.

His most recent version of play is entitled “Better Not Tell Matthew.” In this version of the play, a group of enslaved people on a plantation in Galveston learns that they are free from overhearing the enslaver’s conversation and they plan to escape.

Connor’s involvement with Juneteenth stems farther than his literary work. He explains that the celebration of this holiday means a great deal for African-Americans and for unity in the black community.

“We only celebrate what was given to us by other people. I have chosen to celebrate my heritage with Juneteenth and Kwanzaa. This was a time to celebrate because all of our people were freed, rather than just though outside of Galveston Texas.”

A reading of Ricki Connor’s play, “Better Not Tell Matthew” as well as numerous other performers at the St. Louis Juneteenth celebration on Saturday June 19 at 4000 Maffitt Ave St. Louis, MO.

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