During Juneteenth celebrations you will hear stories about the Emancipation Proclamation and President Abraham Lincoln. You will hear that Lincoln freed enslaved people in 1863, but there’s much more to the story.

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free enslaved people in Union states that allowed slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to states in rebellion that were part of the Confederate States of America. This wasn’t Lincoln’s first attempt to help free enslaved people.

In 1841, while a young attorney, Abraham Lincoln helped Nance Legins-Costley win her freedom. By winning her freedom, her children were then also free. She had two daughters and a young son, William Costley.

William Costley grew up and eventually joined the Union Army during the Civil War. Costley was one of the members of the United States Colored Troops that arrived in Galveston in June of 1865 delivering the message of freedom to the people of Texas.

Author Carl Adams will be in Galveston on Friday for a presentation and book signing at the Nia Cultural Center Juneteenth Legacy Project Headquarters, 2217 Strand St. Suite 101 in Galveston. The program starts at 5 p.m., and Carl’s presentation will begin at 5:30 p.m.

The event is free, but it will be limited to 50 people. We have a limited number of books that will be available for purchase and for Carl to sign. Please come out and hear the rest of the story about the first enslaved person freed by Abraham Lincoln and how that event is connected to the Galveston Juneteenth story.

Carl and I are part of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation Education Committee. The committee was formed in 1994 by the late Dr. Ronald Myers and others. The committee has long been the leading voice nationally pushing for a national Juneteenth holiday.

Last month, the Grandmother of Juneteenth, Opal Lee; Steve Williams, president of the committee; and the 2020 National Miss Juneteenth Saniya Gay were here to promote the push for a national Juneteenth holiday. The committee was key in getting the bills passed in the Senate and the House.

Getting the national holiday on the calendar is important, but it’s also important to educate the public about the rest of the story. Carl’s book, “Trials of Nance” will help expand the narrative around American history and Juneteenth.

This will be Carl’s first trip to Galveston. He will work with me to get William Costley more recognized on the island. The first enslaved male freed by Abraham Lincoln helped to bring the message of freedom to Texas. It’s time to tell this story.

This year, we have a great deal to celebrate. A new national holiday and now a national platform to tell the Juneteenth story. Come meet Carl Adams and welcome him to Galveston Island — the birthplace of Juneteenth. Happy Juneteenth!

Editor’s note: President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Act into law after this column was submitted.

Sam Collins III is co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, and is also a member of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation Education Committee.


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(8) comments

Edward Cotham

Great event.Welcome Carl!

Ed Buckner

Good column and important event--I wish I could be there this afternoon to hear the writer talk. This is of immense importance to American history but especially for Galveston and Galvestonians.

Bailey Jones

It was great to see Opal Lee in the White House with the President yesterday. I'm so happy she lived to see this.

Wayne D Holt

It's interesting to reflect that we never would have needed a Juneteenth celebration at all if we as a nation had lived up to the clear language of the Declaration of Independence, that all are created equal.

I am a strict constructionist. I believe our founding documents are the most perfect ever conceived of in bringing prosperity and freedom to humanity. But we stopped short in applying it and the end result was an horrific civil war and the abhorrent practice of slavery and its follow-on effects.

We don't need more laws or more commemorations. We need to take our founding documents seriously and act each day in the way it prescribes, respecting others for their character and purpose and treating all equally under the law. The only folks who couldn't get behind that agenda are those who currently benefit from the crushing distortions of ethics and law we currently live under.

Ed Buckner

Mr. Holt, I agree with some of what you say, but a. our "founding documents" don't in some sense include the D of I--agreed to over a decade before our governing charter, the US Constitution--and the constitution did not in fact live up to D of I, with the 3/5 compromise, etc. It took an extremely bloody war and several important amendments--13th/14th/15th--to come closer to the equality ideal. I'd say it's well worth celebrating that we are closer to "respecting others for their character and purpose and treating all equally under the law"--a worthy goal indeed.

Wayne D Holt

Interesting point made, Mr. Bucker, thank you.

I think of the Declaration of Independence as THE founding document, because it provided the moral and philosophical basis of everything that followed in the Constitution, which to my mind is the administrative plumbing needed to achieve what the Declaration boldly proclaimed.

So while I would certainly agree it required the additional constitutional supports of the later amendments, that really just reinforces what I stated: from the beginning, equality under the law as a God given right was the standard. If we had hewn to that without exception there would have been no need for either subsequent amendments, a bloody civil war or a Juneteenth celebration. When our ancestors failed to include ALL in "all men are created equal," the die was cast for the need to alter course in ways both peaceful and violent.

Thanks for your insights.

Ed Buckner

And you for yours, Mr. Holt.

Norman Pappous

Great column. Will be republished throughout the ages to remember and commemorate Saturday's historic event.

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