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Texas and the origins of Juneteenth

The word came through an in-person delivered order from the United States Government on June 19, 1865

Years before the state of Texas received official notification that its enslaved people were free due to the U.S. Emancipation Proclamation, all other rebellious Confederate states complied with the presidential order.

The in-person announcement from U.S. Brigadier General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas, came on June 19, 1865.

U.S. Brigadier General Gordon Granger, Galveston, Texas,  June 19, 1865

 A month earlier, Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi division, surrendered on May 26, 1865.  Days later, on June 2, 1865, General Smith officially laid down his arms at Galveston.  He immediately fled the country for Mexico and Cuba as General Smith was deemed treasonous for not following earlier orders to surrender.

While General Smith was slow to surrender his command in Texas, he was accompanied by his valet, a mixed-race slave who was owned by General Smith’s father and believed to be the military leader’s half-brother. Once free, former slave Alexander Hanson Dames, attended two historically black institutions of higher education and earned a degree as a medical doctor. Dames became a well-respected physician whose accomplishments earned him the first statue in Jacksonville, Florida that honored a black man. The statue is situated next to General Smith.

It was a long time coming for Blacks enslaved in Texas who were forced to endure two-and-a-half years more of plantation rules than their counterparts. The General document was welcomed by slaves, yet its last two sentences is deemed controversial by some historians:

“The freedmen 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 idleness either there or elsewhere.”

General Granger’s troops marched through Galveston while some read the General Order No. 3. Their first stop was at the Union Army Headquarters at the Osterman Building.

Osterman Building, left, 1865

Next, they marched to the 1861 Custom House and courthouse. The last reading of General Order No. 3 was at what was referred to as “the Negro Church on Broadway” that is known today as Reedy Chapel-AME Church4.

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