One hundred fifty-one years ago today, a warship landed in the harbor of Galveston, Texas. Union general Gordon Granger was on board, along with about two thousand Union soldiers.
Later that day, Granger stood on the balcony of Ashton Villa — Galveston’s most luxurious mansion and a onetime Confederate military headquarters, built by slaves just five years earlier. He announced the dawn of a new era, reading from General Order 3, a document declaring the end of the Civil War and reasserting the power of the Federal government over the soon-to-be reconstructed South.
But Granger’s most important message was directed not to Galveston’s cotton planters or shipping magnates, but to their slaves:
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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves…
The crowd was jubilant. Many of the assembled spectators were black Texans who had been deceived about the war’s progress by planters hoping to maintain control over their captive workforce for one last cotton harvest.
Two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery had finally come to an end in Texas. That day — June 19, 1865 — would come to be celebrated by black Americans all over the country, who remember Juneteenth as the anniversary of their historic triumph over the planter class.