The Original 1865 Handwritten Juneteenth Order Has Been Found

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” the order says.
Credit…National Archives

Archivists in Washington, D.C., made a timely discovery this week: the original handwritten Union Army record of an order that brought emancipation to enslaved people in Texas at the end of the Civil War.

General Order No. 3 was read aloud by a Union officer, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, in Galveston on June 19, 1865, to inform Texans that all enslaved people in the state were free. That date, which became known as Juneteenth, has been celebrated ever since.

But the handwritten record had been buried in a leather-bound book at the National Archives in Washington, with its location largely unknown — even though, for decades, the book has been available to researchers to leaf through upon request.

The discovery was spurred by Michael Davis, a public affairs specialist for the National Archives who was writing a piece about the history of the holiday.

“In light of what has happened recently in our nation with police brutality, I wanted to make sure that we highlighted Juneteenth,” Mr. Davis said in an interview. He asked his colleagues if the archives had any documents from that day in 1865, hoping to find something but not sure that he would.

Trevor K. Plante, the director of archival operations at the National Archives building in Washington, zeroed in on the Union Army records from Texas. And on Thursday, in the stacks on the 10th tier of the building’s west side, he found a leather-bound book with a June 19 entry in neat cursive.

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” it said. “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.”

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Jacey Fortin