Posting this weekender earlier than usual so there’s time to register and attend the free virtual tour today about the Civil War and Emancipation at Montpelier! Details and registration below.
June 19, 1865. It had been over two years since Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation which promised freedom to enslaved men, women, and children within Confederate territory, but that news had not reached many of the enslaved in Texas. In Galveston, an official order came from Major General Gordon Granger, reading:
“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 quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Shock and joy accompanied the news. Men, women, and children celebrated the moment and made plans for a future of freedom. Some left the plantations and moved to new locations, building new lives in new places. Others stayed and tried to navigate the new employer and hired labor situation within the Reconstruction military district.
The following year—1866—marked the first of the annual freedom celebrations on June 19th, a day which later became “Juneteenth” or Emancipation Day. Traditionally celebrated with religious services or inspiring speeches, reading the Emancipation Proclamation, sharing written or oral history about life before emancipation and the moment when freedom came, picnics, family gatherings, dances, and other uplifting activities, this day commemorates the day when independence and freedom was finally announced and enforced for African Americans in Texas. As the families moved to other locations in the south, west, and north, they continued to celebrate Juneteenth – an ending of bondage and a day of freedom.
The origins and celebrations of this holiday are directly tied to the Civil War and emancipation. This year several governors have officially recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday, bringing another part of Civil War history, memory, and the saga of freedom into the current discussions.
Several months ago, I had made plans to attend the Juneteenth celebration hosted and sponsored by Orange County African-American Historical Society, James Madison’s Montpelier, and The Arts Center in Orange. Due to social distancing and the pandemic, the celebrations have to be held virtually this year, but there is still a lot to learn and explore. And lots of history connected to the Civil War era! The event coordinators graciously provided extra information and links for the presentation and extra resources.
Today – at 2:00pm – you’ll be able to virtually join a tour to explore Sites of Emancipation at Montpelier. Matthew Reeves, Director of Archaeology, will lead a program to see how Archaeological surveys, combined with historical research, have revealed how many of the enslaved community took their quest for freedom into their own hands during the period from 1863-1865. This virtual tour will explore the background history of Montpelier leading up to the Civil War, then we will head into the woods to explore sites of emancipation at Montpelier. We will finish the tour with an overview of the Gilmore Farm – a restored Freedman’s cabin at Montpelier – and several other post-Emancipation house sites on the property.
Click here to register for the event (which includes an option to see the recorded presentation later!)
**I will check over the weekend and see if I can find a public link for the video tour and will update this article accordingly!
You can also check out other resources, videos, discussions, and the ongoing virtual celebration at the event’s website: www.ocaahsjuneteenth.org
Happy Juneteenth! May we always cherish freedom for all.