Juneteenth, or June 19, 1865 is considered the date the last slaves in America were freed. Although the rumors of the freedom were widespread prior to this, the actual emancipation did not come until General Gordon Granger sailed into Galveston Harbor, Texas and issued General Order No.3, on June 19, almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863. This was 2 months after the surrender of Robert E. Lee in Appomattox, Virginia, ending the Civil War.
One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas, General Order Number 3, which began most significantly with: “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, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, notifying the states in rebellion against the Union that if they did not cease their rebellion and return to the Union by January 1, 1863, he would declare their slaves forever free. Neeedless to say, the proclamation was ignored by those states that seceded from the Union.
Futhermore, the proclamation did not apply to those slave-holding states that did not rebel against the Union. As a result about 8000,000 slaves were unaffected by the provisions of the proclamation. It would take a civil war to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to formally outlaw slavery in the United States.
African Americans do celebrate the Fourth of July in honor of American Independence Day, but history reminds us that African Americans were still enslaved when the United States obtained its independence.
June 19th is not the day that slavery ended. The surrender of the south at Appomattox occurred in April of 1865. Lincoln had issued the Emancipation proclamation a full 2 years earlier, although the South ignored it. Slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment which was ratified December 8, 1865. "The last state to abolish slavery (ratify) was Mississippi in 1995. Only 130 years later."
June 19th was the day that Gen. Granger sailed into Galveston Harbor and the slaves in Texas learned that slavery had already ended for them in April. They were still in bondage. By the end of that day, (June 19th )the word had spread that they were now free people. Celebrations broke out all over the city. Each year since that time, June 19th-----aka Juneteenth was a day of celebration of freedom.
While Juneteenth is not yet recognized as a national holiday, it has been approved and celebrated as a state holiday in 29 states, including Arkansas, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Delaware, Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, California, Wyoming, Illinois, Missouri, Connecticut, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Oregon, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Virginia, Washington State, Tennessee, Massachusetts, North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina and the District of Columbia.
Arkansas was the 16th state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday.
Click here to read the Arkansas State Holiday Bill that was introduced in 2005 by Andre' Good & the Juneteenth-Fort Smith Celebration, Ignatius Higgins III, and the Southeast Arkansas Juneteenth Celebration!
The border town of Fort Smith grew slowly around the walls of a small fort established in late 1817 on a high bluff overlooking the junction of the Poteau and Arkansas rivers. Straddling the border between what became the state of Arkansas and what was known then as “Indian Territory” in present-day Oklahoma, by the mid-19th century, Fort Smith was feared as “Hell on the Border, the gateway between “civilization” and the untamed West. Fort Smith was the only law enforcement in the Eastern Oklahoma territories and Western Arkansas.
The U.S. Marshal’s service made it mark in those early days in “The Fort”. There were no free people of color in the Fort Smith, Van Buren area in 1860. The state of Arkansas had passed a resolution in 1859 requiring all the free blacks to leave the state or relinquish their freedom and to be sold back into enslavement. In 1850, there were free blacks, but most had left by 1860 since living freely was no option. Slavery was limited to the larger landowners and noting the loyalty of the city to the Confederate cause, there does not appear to have been opponents to slavery.
The eagerness of the males from the enslaved community in Ft. Smith to enroll in the Union Army when the opportunity presented itself reflects the eagerness to abandon life as enslaved persons. Thus, when the 11th U.S. Colored Infantry was organized in Ft. Smith, it took hold. The unit was later designated as the 113th U.S. Colored Infantry when it merged with 112th. Years later, at the same time as the black soldiers of the 11th US Colored moved eastward towards Little Rock, another set of by black soldiers entered the city. They served with the 57th US Colored Infantry organized in West Helena.
This unit would occupy the city, and was present when word reached Ft. Smith via telegraph that the war was over and Lee had surrendered. The black soldiers of the 57th US Colored Infantry then had a new role. They had to guard the city from every entrance into the town. Thus roads from the south, east, and the ferry landings of the river, were guarded by these black Union Army men. As whites who had fled the city returned, they had to pass the watchful eye of these men, loyal to the preservation of the Union, and at one time enslaved on the same Arkansas soil.
Many black men from the area had seized freedom two years earlier when they joined the Union Army and many were not mustered out of service until 1866. Black women and children had a new freedom never experiences in their lives before. Within 2 years, Ft. Smith established a Field office of the Office of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands---later known as the Freedman’s bureau. The first official black marriage ceremonies were performed at the Freedman’s Bureau Field Office. Many of those marriages were between soldiers of the 57th US Colored Infantry and women once enslaved, in Ft. Smith and neighboring communities. Many of those soldiers today are now buried with full military honor at Ft. Smith National Cemetery.
Within 10 years of the freedom of slaves in the Ft. Smith area, men of color were appointed and sworn into service by Federal Judge Isaac C. Parker as U.S. Deputy Marshals. They would work out of the Federal Court for the next 25 years. We encourage everyone to join the efforts to erect a larger than life size statue of U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves.
Many years later, the U.S. Marshal’s service and the U.S Army played significant roles in the integration Little Rock Central High School and many other schools during the civil rights movement. Fort Smith has been chosen as the future site of the U.S. Marshal's Museum.
Since those early days, Fort Smith has become home for a wonderfully diverse group of people. Today, Fort Smith is known as a Sister City of Cisterna, Italy because of the fostering friendships between the two cities, thanks to the heroics of General William O. Darby and the Darby Rangers. Fort Chaffee was the first "home" for thousands of Vietnamese and later Cuban refugees brought to this country. Fort Smith is currently a city of 80,268 with 77% European-American, 8.6% African-American, 8.8% Hispanic-American and 4.6% Asian-American and 1.7% Native-American in population.
According to the 2000 census, African-Americans will soon be the third largest population group in the United States, instead of the second largest which will be the Hispanic population. According to one estimate, by 2020 the number of non-white or Hispanic inhabitants of America will have doubled, while the white population will remain essentially unchanged. By 2050, the percentage of Asian-Americans will have quintupled, with the total reaching 40 million.
Cultural diversity can be seen in most aspects of life in Fort Smith. Civic groups, churches, schools, businesses, festivals and celebrations reflect the make-up of Fort Smith. Diversity is more than an ethnic or race issue; it also covers age, sex, religion, social status and disabilities. We have to live, work and play together and Fort Smith has some attractions to prove it. The Old Fort Days Rodeo, the Riverfront Blues Festival, Juneteenth's Freedom and Unity Celebration, the Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair, The Scottish Border Games and Gathering, the Old Fort Riverfest, Cinco de Mayo and Mardi Gras Celebrations and more.
In the early years of Juneteenth, little interest existed outside of the African-American community. In some cases, there was outwardly-exhibited resistance from town and city officials, by barring the use of public property for these festivities. Most of these festivals found themselves in rural areas, normally around creeks and rivers that could provide for additional activities.
Today, Fort Smith's Juneteenth Celebration is made possible by the support from area volunteers, sponsorships by local and surrounding area businesses as well as the City of Fort Smith and the Parks and Recreation Commission. Angela Walton-Raji has published a black history journal of Arkansas.
If you are interested in more amazing area facts, visit www.African-NativeAmerican.com or www.ArkansasFreedmen.com. Teachers, students, retirees, visitors, residents — you are urged to look more closely at this untold story of Fort Smith history. The Juneteenth Planning Commission, Inc. (JPCI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to further unifying and educating our community about the importance of cultural appreciation and diversity.
Yes, Juneteenth, does commemorate the date that General Granger sailed into Galveston Harbor to tell those who were still being held in bondage that their dreams for freedom had arrived. All persons who share the legacy of having once been enslaved can share in the joys of what that means symbolically. For folks to better understand what happened keep in mind the following time line:
Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln declares slaves freed in the south.
Congress passed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox VA, bringing the war to an end, and the Union had won. Now truly the word was out and slaves were free.
Many slaves had already become free, (in 1863) when Union soldiers came through and the slaves literally walked off the plantations---setting themselves free when the chance came, but for those who remained behind--the surrender of Robert E. Lee brought about the end of slavery. Before that however----keep in mind that many black men joined the US Colored Troops and fought for their own freedom
Many slaves in Texas had not heard that the war was over, and that they were free. The slave masters did not want to easily set free their free workforce. After all slaves were their free labor---the economy was based on millions of people working for no pay. No one was too eager to tell the slaves that they could go—this because this impacted their wealth.
General Granger sailed into Galveston Harbor announcing the freedom for all who were still enslaved.
Slavery was abundant in Arkansas. Orville Taylor studied Arkansas slavery in depth and noted that the largest number of slaves were from Central Arkansas moving south easterly towards the Mississippi River Delta.
(see attached image of slavery in 1860.)(Each dot on the map represented at least 1000 slaves. Regarding Freed Slaves:)
In June of 1865, because so many men from Arkansas had joined the Union Army many blacks were already freed before the war ended. So the impact of Juneteenth was not as direct on many Arkansas slaves. (But in communities in the Delta----they were still enslaved till the war ended.) In Ft. Smith---word reached the city via telegraph within 2 days in April, that Lee had surrendered and the war was over. All entrances to the city, for example were being guarded by soldiers of the 57th US Colored Infantry. One had to pass a black Union soldier with a musket to enter the city from all directions. BUT----even though blacks were freed already before the slaves got the word in Texas that does not mean that the joy was any less—though it had come 2 years earlier.
Juneteenth should not be considered just a black holiday. All Americans should appreciate the joys of Freedom! Whether it is freedom from bondage, or freedom from the British Empire which the country won a century earlier----freedom is to honored and celebrated by all who hear the word, and feel it in their hearts. Freedom from slavery freed the country from a heinous practice, and it is history that belongs to all of us.
Yes, we should commemorate the beginning of the Civil War---for it was the beginning of the dismantling of the horrors of slavery. For others they may be celebrating something else and call it something else like states rights------but for those who descend from enslaved people---it was the beginning of the end of a 350-year nightmare for our ancestors
In some places emancipation was celebrated in other months commemorating how and when their communities got the word that freedom had come. For others since Juneteenth has become widespread, it is the perfect symbolic vehicle to celebrate that which SHOULD be honored and celebrated by all---freedom!