Though President Abraham Lincoln ended slavery with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, slaves in Texas had no knowledge of their freedom until two and a half years later. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston and declared the end of the Civil War, with General Grangerreading aloud a special decree that ordered the freeing of some 200,000 slaves in the state.
Because of the delay, many African Americans started a tradition of celebrating the actual day slavery ended on June 19 (also known as Juneteenth). But for some, their cheers were short-lived. Thanks to the South’s lucrative prison labor system and a deceptive practice called debt peonage, a kind of neo-slavery continued for some blacks long into the 1940s. The question then arises: When did African Americans really claim their freedom?
Chattel slavery in the classic sense ended with the Civil War’s close and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Reconstruction followed, creating new opportunities for African Americans who owned and profited from their own land and dug into local politics.
[Abraham Lincoln image via Shutterstock]