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Notes from the Archives: Celebrating Juneteenth

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On this day in 1865, Union General Gordon Granger read General Order No. 3 to the inhabitants of Galveston, Texas. The order signaled the total emancipation of all enslaved people in the United States.

In 1862, at the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Proclamation of Emancipation, 1864.

The proclamation only abolished slavery in the Confederate South and did not apply to enslaved people in the Confederate States of America. It also did not emancipate enslaved people in the four border states of Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware, or in Texas. In 1865, Congress passed a law abolishing slavery throughout the United States. The 1865 reading of General Order No. 3 in Galveston signaled the total emancipation of all enslaved people in the United States.

The order read:

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.

Later that year, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, cementing the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Throughout 1865 and 1866, celebrations of emancipation broke out across the country. In Boston, the Board of Aldermen ordered that bells be rung on January 1, 1866, “in token of the rejoicing at the consummation of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Constitutional Amendment abolishing slavery in the United States.”

Order to ring bells in celebration of emancipation, December 30, 1865

Though different communities across the country initially celebrated Emancipation on different dates, June 19, the day that General Order No. 3 was read in Galveston Texas, became widely celebrated as Emancipation Day or Juneteenth.

African American communities around the country celebrated by holding community events, parades, special church services, and family gatherings.

Emancipation Day, 1888 - East Main Street near 21st Southside, Richmond, Virginia
Emancipation Day Celebration band, June 19, 1900, Austin, Texas

Read more about how you can celebrate Juneteenth in Boston this year!