Today is a federal holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865 that has come to be known as Juneteenth. NPR tries to dispel four myths about what actually happened that day. Myth #4 is that “The Juneteenth Order was basically a Texas version of the Emancipation Proclamation.” The order that was posted in Texas was different.
Fact: General Orders No. 3 stated unequivocally “all slaves are free,” but it also contained patronizing language intended to appease planters who didn’t want to lose their workforce. Forty-one words of the brief 93-word order urged enslaved people to stay put and keep working.
“The freed are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Sam Collins: “The last two sentences advised the freedmen to remain at their present homes and work for wages. So you’re free, but don’t go anywhere.”
Ed Cotham: “Many years later, the formerly enslaved (interviewed for the 1930s WPA Slave Narratives) remembered when the Freedom Paper was read to them. The slaveholder wanted to keep them working, but they didn’t hear it that way. Once they heard “all slaves are free” they said to hell with you. That’s what made the Juneteenth Order so memorable and made it succeed.”
Myth #1 is that slaves in Texas did not hear about their emancipation until that day, more than two years after Lincoln issued the declaration. That is false. They knew it almost immediately since there was a very efficient communication network among slaves in Texas. So why did they not say “to hell with it” then? Because the slave states used brutal methods to enforce the abominable practice and the state governments and the legal system were part of that repressive apparatus. The slave states essentially said “to hell with it” to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and it required their defeat by the Union army before the proclamation could be enforced and slaves were free in practice as well as in law.
Of course, we then saw the post-Reconstruction period in which states passed laws that created a new form of subjugation that deprived Blacks of receiving the full benefits of freedom, practices that have had negative consequences down to this day.