When President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emaciation Proclamation announcing that all slaves in rebellious Confederate states would be free on New Year’s Day 1863, it would take over two years for recruited Black soldiers to spread the message. Following the Proclamation in January 1863, the Bureau of Colored Troops was established to assist the Union Army’s desperate call for Black and non-white military recruits to sign up.
Initially, free Blacks and runaway slaves in the North rushed to sign-up with Union armies when the Civil War broke out in 1861and were turned away. As both Union and Confederate troop numbers were decimated, Congress enacted a bill called The Militia Act authorizing the President “to employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary for the suppression of the rebellion, and for this purpose, he may organize and use them in such manner as he may judge best for the public welfare.”
More than 178,000 free Blacks and freedmen signed up and bolstered the Union war effort in what became known as the United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.) during the last two years of the war.
It was U.S.C.T. that marched to the Alston Villa in Galveston Texas, and surrounded the Alston Villa on Juneteenth, or June 19, 1865. General Gordon Granger took charge of the state of Texas and informed the nation’s last remaining slaves of their freedom – almost two and a half years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Legend has it while standing on the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, Union General Gordon Granger (and his regiment of 2,000 federal troops) read the contents of “General Order No. 3”: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
As reported earlier in The Philadelphia Tribune, “two years prior to Juneteenth – the oldest celebration commemorating the end of slavery in America – Philadelphia would be the first city to host the first African in America Parade in the United States of America. This parade consisted of several hundred African Americans marching without arms or uniforms in file with drums, and inspiring banners as they headed for the U.S.C.T.’s – Camp William Penn in La Mott near the present day site of the Cheltenham Mall.
Juneteenth events in Philadelphia include:
The Library Company of Philadelphia hosts “Juneteenth Freedom SeminarBlack Liberation Past and Present” on Thursday, June 21 from 6:30- 8:30 p.m. The event will feature a presentation by Dr. Michael Dickinson, Assistant Professor of African American History at Virginia Commonwealth University and performances by singer and songwriter, Keisha Hutchins, and Philadelphia Youth Poet Laureate, Husnaa Hashim. A panel discussion will follow. Location: The Trinity Center for Urban Life, 2212 Spruce Street, Philadelphia. For information, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/juneteenth-freedom-seminar-tickets-45295718714
The Philadelphia Community of Leaders (PCOL) will host its third annual Juneteenth celebration, starting on Friday, June 22, with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Liberty Bell and a remembrance for the slaves held by George Washington from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Festivities continue on Saturday, June 23 with parade at noon from 15th Street and JFK Boulevard to Penn’s Landing followed by Musicfest from 2-9 p.m. at Penn’s Landing. for more information, call (267) 331-6458 or visit juneteenthphilly.org.
The Please Touch Museum celebrates Juneteenth with “Family Festival: Freedom Day” on June 24 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Learn about African American quilting traditions and symbols in Freedom Quilts, join special story times to learn more about the end of slavery in the U.S. and this important day in history, create works of art, listen to musical performances, and more. Free with admission. Location: 4231 Avenue of the Republic, (formerly North Concourse Dr.) Philadelphia. For more information, call (215) 581-3181 or visit www.pleasetouchmuseum.org/event/16892/.