There is more than one Independence Day in the United States. Juneteenth or Emancipation Day is celebrated by African Americans on 19 June each year. Although slaves had been freed by Abraham Lincoln when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863, there were 250,000 slaves in Texas that were not aware of this, and no one was in a rush to tell them. It wasn’t until Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, rode into Galveston, Texas with news the war had ended that the enslaved knew they were free. Since then it has been celebrated as Juneteenth.

 

No one is exactly sure why slaves in Texas were not told they were free. It is speculated that news traveled slowly, or that slave owners purposely suppressed the news. Others say the messenger was murdered to prevent the information from being relayed. Still others say that the government delayed the message to Texas in order to get one more cotton harvest out of the slaves. Many believe Lincoln’s Proclamation was not enforceable in rebel states before the end of the war. Texas is such a large state that some slaves were not freed until the news reached them in 1868.

 

Although the slaves were freed, they were encouraged to stay with their former owners and work as hired labor. They were told they could not stay at the military posts and could not live on the streets. Many slaves were not interested in staying with former owners even for pay. Hence, “the SCATTER” began when droves of slaves left Texas in search of family members and more welcoming accommodations in the North. 

 

Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980. Juneteenth is still not a federal holiday, although most states officially recognize Juneteenth. Traditions vary across the U.S. The Juneteenth flag is full of symbolism.

 

Pictured above: Buffalo Soldiers carrying Juneteenth flag. Photo credit: Mary Ann White
 

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