Now that Juneteenth is a national holiday, it is important to concentrate on the accurate portrayal of the historical events that took place in Galveston on June 19, 1865.

I am troubled by the fact that some Juneteenth programs in Galveston and elsewhere continue to include a “re-creation” or “re-enactment” of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger’s reading of General Order No. 3, the Juneteenth Order. As far as we know, nothing like that happened.

Granger did not publicly read the order to anybody anywhere.

The text was written by other officers, including Maj. Frederick Emery, who actually signed the order. The order was issued from Granger’s headquarters in the Osterman Building at 22nd Street and The Strand. It was then posted at various locations around the city and then was widely circulated around the state by newspapers and handbills.

When the formerly enslaved people were interviewed long after the fact, many vividly remembered where and when the “freedom paper” was first read to them. But that was not as a result of Granger reading the order to them from a Galveston balcony.

The story behind Juneteenth is interesting and important enough without creative elaboration. There is no need to resort to historically inaccurate reenactments to celebrate it.

We should certainly read the Juneteenth Order and study why it reads the way it does. But that does not require a fake reading from a balcony.

America didn’t need to imagine George Washington reading the Declaration of Independence from a balcony to celebrate the Fourth of July.

We also don’t need to invent a Granger reading on a balcony to celebrate Juneteenth.

Edward T. Cotham Jr. is the author of “Juneteenth: The Story Behind the Celebration.”


(3) comments

Charles Douglas

This is good information! I'm glad you saw fit to say what you said here! Accuracy is always a good policy! Muchas Gracias Mi Amigo!

Bailey Jones

"It was then posted at various locations around the city and then was widely circulated around the state by newspapers and handbills."

I'd like to see permanent postings of the order around the city - sort of like we do with historical markers. It would add to the city's historical atmosphere. If relevant locations could be identified after all this time - perhaps the courthouse, customs house, etc. And in schools, of course.

Edward Cotham

I like to see the order read. I just wish that it would not be presented as a recreation of Granger reading it. It was certainly read later by Union soldiers and even former slaveholders, to former enslaved people. To me, that's the real story of Juneteenth. Getting Granger involved just messes up the true story.

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