Wednesday, February 13, 2008

1865: slaves freed (late) in Texas

With the arrival of an Army ship in Galveston on June 19, 1865, Texas was the last state to learn that the South had surrendered two months earlier. More than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, the 250,000 slaves in Texas were finally freed.

The date in June is commemorated as Juneteenth, which is traditionally celebrated on the third Saturday in June. It began taking root across the country largely because of enthusiastic black "Texpats" in other states, like like Joe Kings, a retired Army medical administrator who spent 11 years stationed at Fort Hood in Texas. After buying a business in Portland, Maine, he held a Juneteenth picnic the very first year.

"Even the black people here didn't know about Juneteenth," Mr. Kings said. "Now the white ladies come by on the first of June and start asking: 'When's Juneteenth?'"

With its lighthearted name and tragicomic origins, Juneteenth appeals to many Americans by celebrating the end of slavery without dwelling on its legacy. Juneteenth, its celebrators say, is Martin Luther King's Birthday without the grieving. (info from The New York Times)

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