My personal feelings about celebrating Juneteenth have shifted a few times. I first learned of Juneteenth long after my college years. A friend from Texas suggested a few of us in Orlando, Florida, join her in celebrating Juneteenth, which was a big thing in her home of Beaumont. Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, was the day enslaved people in Texas learned of their freedom. I understood why that would be a big deal in Texas. But why should people not from Texas be concerned?
Over time, Juneteenth became more popular throughout America—the concept of celebrating the end of enslavement, despite the span of time between when the Civil War is considered to have ended, April 9, 1865, and Juneteenth, seventy-one days later. I eventually got curious and started digging into what happened during those seventy-one days?
I first thought there might have been a delay in communication. What forms of information transmission were available those days such that an event as important as the Civil War ending got missed for almost two-and-a-half months? There was the mail, which was slow and unreliable. Newspapers were available, although a large percentage of the population, especially the enslaved population, was illiterate (not by choice). Telegraph depended on cables physically connected between cities, but Texas wasn’t excluded from the telegraph and should have received the news.
People were the other source of information. Refugees from battleground states steadily streamed to Texas. They included plantation owners and farmers who brought enslaved people with them. Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery on January 31, 1865, and was headed towards ratification by the end of the year. The people who traveled to Texas by train, boat, and other means knew the war was over, and still, the Texas enslaved people were not freed. Why?