WASHINGTON — On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s historic Emancipation Proclamation, U.S. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which informed the people of Texas that all enslaved people were now free. Granger commanded the Headquarters District of Texas, and his troops had arrived in Galveston the previous day.
This day has come to be known as Juneteenth, a combination of June and nineteenth. It is also called Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, and it is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
The official handwritten record of General Order No. 3, is preserved at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.
“The National Archives safeguards many of the nation’s most important records related to African American history and civil rights, and General Order Number 3 is one of those records,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero. “We know from history that certain events took place, and it’s always a delight when we can help make history come alive by sharing the actual documentation of those events.”
General Order No. 3 states:
“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.”
While the order was critical to expanding freedom to enslaved people, the racist language used in the last sentences foreshadowed that the fight for equal rights would continue. Visit our exhibit The Enduring Chronicle: Civil Rights Documents at the National Archives at Atlanta to review the “Early Gains and Losses” in the ongoing fight for Civil Rights.
“A lot of people may not realize we have the original document in our holdings,” said Trevor K. Plante, director of Archival Operations at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. “One of our public affairs specialists reached out to me to see if we had General Order 3. I searched for the document in our holdings in support of this story. I think this is an important record for American history, and more importantly, African American history.”
The printed version is part of the War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies volumes published in the 1880s and 1890s.
The document will be officially digitized and added to the National Archives Catalog, as well as highlighted on NARA’s African American History page.
“This is a perfect time to showcase General Order No. 3 because it’s one way of educating everyone on African American culture, and I believe it supports the National Archives’ overall goal to create and sustain an inclusive, empowering workplace culture that connects employees to the agency’s mission of making access happen,” said Erica Pearson, Director of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity program at the National Archives.
Juneteenth has been formally celebrated primarily by people in African American communities in Texas since 1866 and later celebrated in other states. Nearly all U.S. states and the District of Columbia currently recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday or observance. It is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.