Juneteenth and Washington’s Freedom Day

Published 5:44 pm Monday, June 6, 2022

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On Monday, June 20th, America will celebrate its newest Federal holiday, Juneteenth. Juneteenth also known as ‘Emancipation Day,’ Freedom Day, Black Independence Day or Jubilee Day commemorates the emancipation of all enslaved African-Americans in this country.

Originating in Galveston Texas, Juneteenth celebrates the day on June 19th, 1865 when a Union Army General named Gordan Granger brought the announcement of the General Order No.3, aka, the Emancipation Proclamation, written by President Abraham Lincoln, that proclaimed all enslaved people were to be free as of January 1 1863.  Texas, however was the last state left in the Confederacy, and under its control, so it could not be implemented easily. As a result, in the westernmost part of Confederate Texas with institutional slavery, enslaved people would not be free until later.

President Lincoln’s Proclamation would have freed the enslaved people in Texas and all other southern secessionist states. Enforcement of the proclamation generally relied on the advancement of Union troops. Texas being the most remote part of the former Confederacy with its wide expanse of slavery and a sometimes sparse and inconsistent presence of Union troops prior to Granger’s announcement, was part of the problem of the proclamation not reaching Galveston plantations and the rest of Galveston until two and a half years later.

Freedom did come on June 19th 1865 when 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay and announced to more than 250,000 enslaved people in the state that they were free by executive decree.

Galveston has celebrated Juneteenth since 1865.  Later, many other states began to celebrate the freedom of all enslaved people on that day. They now felt now all African Americans had a mandate that paralleled the belief that all men were created equal in God’s sight and understood as equal with all people.

Today, Juneteenth serves as a reminder that it is a date of major significance in American history that represented the ways in which the freedom of people of color have been delayed.

I am especially proud of Washington NC, as one year after the Emancipation Proclamation proclaimed freedom for the enslaved, Washington celebrated its first Freedom Day/Emancipation Day on January 30, 1864.  In my research I have found Washington to be the only town in North Carolina to do so, one year after the Proclamation was decreed. Washington continued to celebrate off and on until 1940.

The first Freedom Day or Emancipation Day event in Washington was attended by more than 1,500 men, women and children. The program included the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, poems, (especially one written by a former enslaved person from here in the greater Washington area), the singing of hymns and a flag raising. The celebration of strength to overcome the effects and horrors of slavery and to form strong bonds of unity among themselves and partnerships with all people were the theme of the day.

The Greater Beaufort County Historic Juneteenth 2022 Committee will be doing the same 1863 program on Saturday June 19 at 11:00 a.m. in front of the Presbyterian Church where the Proclamation was originally read in January, 1863.  I will tell you more about the details next week, and the wonderful Juneteenth celebrations planned around the city.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.