This article originally appeared on the blog of Heretic, the magazine of We Are Libertarians.
On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas with approximately 20,000 Union soldiers. Upon arriving and taking control of the formerly-Confederate state, Granger read Order No. 3, which declared the freedom of the state’s remaining 250,000 slaves, effective immediately. (The full ext of Order No. 3 can be found at the bottom of this post.)
These 250,000 slaves were some of the very last to be freed in America. Their freedom came two months after Robert E. Lee had surrounded to Grant at Appomattox, Virginia. Their freedom came two years after President Lincoln issues his Emancipation Proclamation. Late as it was though, their freedom that arrived on June 19 marks the commonly agreed to final abolition of slavery in America (except for the pesky little clause in the 13th Amendment that continues to permit it, of course).
Americans typically view July 4, 1776 as our collective “independence day”. I’ve long been of the opinion that this is bullshit. That date and the Declaration of Independence did nothing for enslaved Black Americans; that date and document did nothing for women; they did hardly anything at all for the poor, marginalized, and non-politically connected. July 4th was the independence day for a few of the elite of American colonial society, nothing more. So long as some are oppressed, none of us are truly liberated. So long as there is tyranny, none of us are truly free.
Juneteenth though, that is a different story. Rather than a day when freedom, liberty, and justice were recognized for some, Juneteenth is a day when freedom, liberty, and justice were (at least in spirit, if not in action) acknowledged for all. And that is a day worth celebrating.
Obviously, the emancipation of those final Texas slaves did not fulfill all the promises laid out in the Declaration of Independence for all Americans. The vile history of Jim Crow, Southern redemption, segregation, mass incarceration, etc. all attest to this tragic truth. But, the Juneteenth emancipation – despite the shortcomings of America in the decades that followed – still stands worlds above July 4 as a day to celebrate independence and humanity.
GENERAL ORDERS, No. 3
Headquarters District of Texas
Galveston, TX, June 19, 1865
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 personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.