The National Archives said Thursday that it discovered what appears to be the original handwritten military order informing the nearly 250,000 slaves in Texas that they were free.
Trevor Plante, director of an archives textual records division, told The Washington Post that he was asked to look for the original copy due to current interest in the subject. The two-paragraph order was discovered in a book titled “General Orders No. 3” and addressed to the Union headquarters in Galveston, Texas.
The order was enforced by Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, although one of his aide’s wrote and signed the letter. It was delivered to slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865 and prompted the first Juneteenth celebrations.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, ‘all slaves are free.’” – June 19, 1865https://t.co/7cC0sDgNlO pic.twitter.com/VFomMqVXJo
— Brad Meltzer (@bradmeltzer) June 19, 2020
“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 order stated.
The main Confederate army under Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865 at the Appomattox Court House. However, it took several months for notices of surrender and the slaves’ emancipation to reach the rest of the Confederacy.
Archivist of the United States David Ferriero told The Washington Post that he was pleased with the discovery of the order, especially given current events. “I think it’s terrific. I think the timing is just amazing,” he said.
Ongoing demonstrations against police brutality and racism, which were sparked by George Floyd’s death in May, have brought greater attention to what was initially an observance for black people. (RELATED: Minnesota Grants Posthumous Pardon To Black Man In Century-Old Lynching Case)
Texas made Juneteenth a paid state holiday in 1980, and several states like Virginia and New York have done the same this year. A number of companies, including Twitter and Nike, have made Juneteenth a company holiday, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that the football league would do the same.