In 1866, the United States addressed slavery in Indian Territory issue by entering into new treaties with each of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” although the treaty with the Choctaw and the Chickasaw was a joint treaty. Until these treaties, which were signed, only the Cherokee had taken steps to abolish slavery. However, in each of the 1866 treaties the tribal signatory acknowledged that slavery would no longer be recognized as a legal institution by the tribe.
If we simply go by the dates on which the Five Civilized Tribes ratified these treaties, slavery in the continental United States came to an end as a legal institution on June 14, 1866, when the Creek Tribe agreed to abandon African-American slavery. That was approximately one year after Juneteenth.
Delaware was a slave state on the Mason-Dixon line. All efforts to abolish slavery in Delaware prior to the Civil War failed due to a small number of Delawareans who were slave owners with an outsized political influence. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to the Confederate States. President Abraham Lincoln knew that slavery must be abolished in all the states, but in order to do that, the Constitution had to be amended — so the 13th Amendment was proposed to abolish slavery outright. On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Texas and proclaimed freedom for enslaved persons in that state, a date now a federally-recognized [holiday] to honor the occasion. But even after Juneteenth, and the end of the Civil War, Delaware took no action to make slavery unlawful. Those enslaved in Delaware remained in bondage until December 6, 1865, when the 13th Amendment was declared ratified, without Delaware’s concurrence.
As Juneteenth’s observance is getting more attention and being adopted more widely as an official holiday, there’s growing attention to how people were held in slavery in Delaware even after the date commemorated as Juneteenth. But because Delaware was a border state between the North and South, Lincoln’s order did not apply to slaves in the First State. The last complete census in 1860 found 1,900 people living in slavery in Delaware. Most of those were in southern Delaware’s rural Sussex County, although smaller numbers were held throughout the state. Those still held in slavery on June 19 would not be freed until December of 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified. Delaware prides itself on being “The First State” for ratifying the Constitution before any other, but it was among the last to ratify the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery, waiting until February 1901, more than 35 years after the end of the Civil War.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. describes the history of Juneteenth. Defying confusion and delay, terror and violence, the newly “freed” black men and women of Texas, with the aid of the Freedmen’s Bureau (itself delayed from arriving until September 1865), now had a date to rally around. In one of the most inspiring grassroots efforts of the post-Civil War period, they transformed June 19 from a day of unheeded military orders into their own annual rite, “Juneteenth,” beginning one year later in 1866.
Colored troops, as they were called back then, played a big role in the history of the Juneteenth holiday. "With Frederick Douglas speaking to Abraham Lincoln said, 'Look, if you want to win this war you need to get the freedman involved, runaways slaves and anyone else who believe in this cause." Recruited and trained at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, these freedman and ex-slaves enlisted in 19 Black troop regiments. They eventually gained their freedom by fighting in the Union Army.
As the nation honors and celebrates the Juneteenth holiday, this blog post provides links to resources on the history of Juneteenth available through the Stanford Libraries and beyond. This website links to Stanford Libraries' rich holdings, including primary source materials, digital historical African American newspapers, recent oral histories, speeches from the Congressional Record, presidential proclamations and selected historical and cultural resources.
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama that works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality. They have an online daily calendar that includes entries highlighting historical events and issues in our nation's racial history. On June 19th the EJI calendar highlights Juneteenth and includes a short video titled the “Legacy of Racial Injustice” that is narrated by their founder Bryan Stevenson.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It is the newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution and has been affectionately renamed as “the Blacksonian.” This website includes lots of information and videos. Juneteenth is a time to celebrate, gather as a family, reflect on the past and look to the future. The National Museum of African American History and Culture invites you to engage in your history and discover ways to celebrate this holiday.
The artist who created the mural said, "The 2021 mural honors the thousands of soldiers, 75% who were Black Union soldiers, that went throughout Texas to force slave owners to release more than 250,000 enslaved Blacks throughout the state, to enforce General Order No. 3." The History Curator and Program Manager at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles explained that the army stationed 50,000 troops, including regiments of Colored Troops, across Texas because white pro-slavery Texans, especially cotton planters whose wealth was concentrated in the port of Galveston, violently opposed emancipation after the Civil War. It should be noted that Gen. Granger's proclamation was aimed at these Texans as a way to defeat white rebellion and to consolidate the Union victory.