Original Juneteenth proclamation found as America's black emancipation holiday goes national

Juneteenth 2004
(Image credit: David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery in the U.S., has been celebrated by black Americans for generations, typically with cookouts, song, parades, and other festivities. This year, amid a coronavirus pandemic that kills African Americans at three times the rate as whites and coast-to-coast protests against racism and police brutality sparked by the killing of George Floyd, Juneteenth has gone national and multiracial.

Nike, the NFL, Twitter, and several media outlets made Juneteenth a company holiday this year, and on Wednesday, New York declared it a paid holiday for state workers, The Associated Press reports. Hundreds of Juneteenth events are planned around the U.S., including in Tulsa, where President Trump had earlier planned to hold a rally Friday. Every state but Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota officially recognizes Juneteenth, and the White House, as Trump learned Thursday, has been issuing statements celebrating Juneteenth in his name every year he's been in office.

Given the growing public interest in the holiday, the National Archives searched for and, on Thursday, found the original handwritten Juneteenth proclamation, announcing to slaves in Galveston on June 19, 1865, that they had been emancipated in 1863.

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"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, 'all slaves are free,'" Union Army Maj. F.W. Emery wrote on June 19, on behalf of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, who had arrived in Galveston with 2,000 Union soldiers 10 weeks after the Confederacy surrendered. "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."

There have been printed version of Granger's "Orders No. 3" for a long time, "but this is something that we haven't tracked down before," Trevor Plante, the archivist who found the document, tells The Washington Post, adding that Emery's handwritten version "absolutely" predated the printed order.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.