by President and CEO Dr. Eve M. Hall
June 19, 1865, began as any other June day had for nearly 250 years for enslaved people in Texas. Hot and humid, it dawned as another day of back-breaking and humiliating work. Another day of being labeled property; another day of freedom denied, despite the Emancipation Proclamation which had gone into effect January 1, 1863.
But that changed forever when U.S. Major General Gordon Granger - newly arrived in Galveston, Texas - issued General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865. It informed the people of Texas that all enslaved people were free! Celebrations broke out among the newly freed across Galveston and Texas as the word spread.
The proclamation was likely made even sweeter because soldiers under Granger’s command enforcing this order included members of the United States Colored Troops, Black soldiers whom President Abraham Lincoln credited with helping to secure the Union.
The announcement of freedom is only part of the Juneteenth Day story. General Order No. 3 also boldly expanded on the declaration of freedom declaring, “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves…”
Words written 156 years ago have yet to be fulfilled. With our partners, Milwaukee Urban League works towards that day of absolute equality, offering programs and support that empower communities and change lives. Juneteenth Day – which is now a federal holiday – gives us the opportunity to renew our commitment and to redouble our efforts to achieve the “absolute equality” Major General Granger called for on the first Juneteenth Day.
Our ancestors who celebrated on June 19, 1865, deserve nothing less than our unflinching efforts and unwavering devotion to equality for us all. We shall never forget.