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Juneteenth is more than just a holiday; it’s a day that commemorates the resilience, defiance, and complex path to freedom for Black people in America. While many have celebrated Juneteenth for over 150 years, the depth of its story remains lesser-known. This blog post aims to shed light on the intricate history behind this significant day.

Major General Granger’s Arrival

The story of Juneteenth begins on June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas. Although the Civil War had officially ended two months earlier, Black people in Texas were still not free. Texas, largely untouched by Union forces throughout the war, had become a final stronghold for slavery, fiercely maintaining the barbaric system at all costs. General Granger’s mission was clear: enforce the emancipation of enslaved Black people in this remote part of the Confederacy.

Proclamation of Freedom

As General Granger stood before a gathered crowd in Galveston, he read General Order Number 3, proclaiming that all Black people were free in Texas. The order declared that in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation, all slaves were free and that there was absolute equality between former masters and their slaves.

The proclamation transformed the relationship between them to one of employer and hired laborer, effectively ending slavery in Texas. This momentous day has since become known as Juneteenth, marking the day enslaved Black people in Texas learned of their freedom.

Defiance and Resistance

However, the story of Juneteenth is more complex than General Granger’s proclamation. It also involves years of defiance and resistance to ending slavery. Despite President Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring all enslaved people in Confederate states free, many Texans ignored it. Texas slave owners continued the brutal practice of enslaving Black people, defying federal orders.

For instance, in August 1864, three years after the Emancipation Proclamation, David Black of Red River County used land to purchase an enslaved person from M. S. Algier. Similarly, on July 5, 1865, John H. Brooks of San Augustine County signed a promissory note agreeing to pay $400 in gold for an enslaved Black person named Miles. These actions blatantly defied the federal mandate, showcasing the deep resistance to ending slavery in Texas.

Legal Battles and Economic Turmoil

The path to freedom was riddled with legal battles and economic turmoil. After Granger’s proclamation, disputes arose over contracts involving enslaved Black people during the Civil War. One of the first significant cases was Williams v. Arnis. On January 1, 1865, P. Williams and H. J. Meadow agreed to pay Henrietta Arnis $700 for hiring three enslaved people for twelve months.

Despite the Emancipation Proclamation being in effect, Williams refused to pay, arguing the slaves were freed by it. Arnis sued, and the Texas Supreme Court ruled in her favor, suggesting slavery remained legal in Texas beyond January 1, 1863. This case highlighted the complexity of defining the end of slavery in Texas, implying that slavery was still recognized until Union troops enforced it.

Broader Implications of Legal Battles

These legal battles reveal the deep entrenchment of slavery and the massive economic and social upheavals emancipation caused. The disputes were not just about freeing Black people but also about property rights and the economic system built on slavery. The question of when slavery actually ended in Texas was crucial, impacting numerous contracts and financial arrangements made during the war years. Slavery represented white wealth, and slaveholders were determined to maintain their wealth, even if it meant defying federal orders and keeping Black people in bondage.

As we celebrate Juneteenth, it’s essential to remember that the battle for freedom was fought on battlefields and in courts. The timing of Black people’s freedom was crucial for economic reasons, and the struggle for justice continues today. The mass incarceration of Black people still benefits those who profit from it. Juneteenth serves as a reminder of the ongoing fight for justice and the need to challenge systems that exploit Black lives. It’s more than just a holiday.

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